Tag Archives: political art

Strong female expression

Early in 2016, while writing a YA novel about a rock band, I left a part time retail job when I began selling enough paintings (11 x 14″) on FaceBook to pay my bills. Since then I’ve painted around five hundred faces – the vast majority of women. I began painting self-portraits at thirteen to express an intensity I possessed that I didn’t see in advertising and magazine images of women at that time (1973). I’ve continued to explore strong female expression in my art practice, which includes writing, music and painting.

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Self-portrait (11 x 17″ tempera on paper, circa 1973)

 

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literary fiction, 1993

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A self-portrait photo on the cover of Mecca Normal’s 12th album (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) – songs from my yet-to-be published novel “Love Wants You.”

As the lyricist and singer in the band Mecca Normal, I have been writing about women and social justice since 1984. Most people who see my paintings know my background – or they are exposed to it online because of its proximity to where my paintings are posted. Viewers would understand that, at the very least, I’m not objectifying women, but beyond that I haven’t written an artist statement, other than to offer that I paint attitudes more than beauty or other superficial qualities, and that the vast amount of time involved in creating, honing and moving characters around in fiction informs my painting process as I keep working on pieces until I achieve a sort of complete personhood that exudes emotional depth rather than a concentration on physical attributes, which is the essence of how women are typically valued. In our society, what we look like is always the most important thing about us.

The long history of women as subjects in art made by men is intertwined with women not making art themselves. At this point in my artistic practice, I am painting without an overt political agenda, allowing my contemporary portrait paintings to speak for themselves.

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No Hat #258 (11 x 14″ acrylic on canvas panel) 2017 SOLD

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FaceBook Memories

My FaceBook page memories says I painted “No Hat #90” on this day’s date last year. It’s one of many I’ve done from a photo of transgender model Andreja Pejic, who I first painted in May of 2016 with “No Hat #21”.

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“No Hat #90” (acrylic on canvas board 11 x 14”) September 6, 2016.
$100 USD plus shipping.

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Andreja Pejic

No Hat #21 800“No Hat #21″ (acrylic on canvas board, 11 x 14”) May 12, 2016. SOLD

I return periodically to work from the photo of Andreja for various reasons. It’s soothing and stabilizing to paint the familiar — and it’s a barometer of my technical evolution in the ongoing series. I may consciously apply newly honed skills to it, aware of higher levels of brain-eye-hand activity that doesn’t always mean a better painting in the end. It’s still mostly about knowing when to stop. Each painting has thousands of micro-expressions (in the mouth and eyes in particular) that are in constant motion until I find a point where they hold a pronounced amount of personhood and attitude. It seems to be about inventing a fully fledged character that has obligations to me (and to you) — and possibly beyond that in terms of social philosophies and a history yet to unfurl.

Andreja Pejic is not just a well-lit face with lovely bone structure. Her story of personal and public evolution — and her professional understanding of what her face reveals — inform how I paint. I’m not overly-interested in making paintings that look like her. Obviously, as a very vocal feminist, I’m not using sex to sell art. I’m not subjugating women, but I think about these things. I worry about these things. What if I wasn’t a known feminist? Would my paintings of women be suspect?

Because I’m not beholden to the subject, I am free to change eye and hair color which are often based on other colours in the work, but I admit I am wary of painting too many blue-eyed blondes and what people will think when I paint African Americans. It was a truly strange week in my mind when I painted “The Party” without yet knowing of the uproar surrounding Dana Schutz’s painting “Open Casket” at the Whitney Biennial. Internally, I evaluated my motives and felt uneasy about how my painting might be interpreted, but it also gave me cause to realize nobody actually cares what I’m doing in any big way because I’m not in the “Art World” — I’m just some random painter who perhaps thinks her work is more important than it actually is. Having a history of being regarded as important in music has not translated to importance in writing and painting (yet).

People who see my work more or less know (and hopefully trust) my intentions, but is that good? I don’t essentially want to rely on that understanding. Anyway, it was a weird week.

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“The Party” (acrylic on canvas board, 11 x 14″) March 20, 2017.
$100 USD plus shipping.

While I’m painting, I’m physically advocating for a strong personality to evolve in spite of — and because of — how things are (in my life, in your life, in the world at large). Yet, there are paintings with unmasked vulnerability, sadness, pain too. And paintings that are all mask — whether its paint, make-up, a lack figurative clarity or part of a traditional costume (the Kabuki series… which are men wearing white make-up portraying women).

Kabuki #1 by Jean Smith

“Kabuki #1″ (acrylic on canvas board, 11 x 14”) March 1, 2016.
$100 USD at John Doe Records Hudson, NY.

In many ways painting is like playing music or writing for me. I allow myself to be influenced by excellence, to connect my work to history without being thwarted by all that can be known, I infuse work with idiosyncratic stances — some of which have been in place from the beginning, other facets of which are just turning up now.

That Mecca Normal and my great creative partnership with David Lester are running concurrently makes this a nearly collaborative endeavour. Dave’s encouragement and understanding of me as both an artist and a human fuel my resolve to work, building my confidence and tenacity. I admire his discipline (work on a graphic novel about Emma Goldman), motivation and generosity. When his book is published, we’ll likely do some Mecca Normal-based events that will also include what I’m doing with the painting project. As with much of or work, there will be over-lapping themes and exciting ways to collaborate.

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Drawing by David Lester – Graphic Novelist for his graphic novel about Emma Goldman.

I must admit, it suits my personality to be able to show people my paintings as soon as their finished. It’s integral, of course, the overall project. Books and records, tours and events all take so much time to complete and set in motion. It’s a great luxury to have an audience for my work here on FaceBook.

Thank-you for paying attention and for buying my paintings. This is the most exciting time of my life, but it would not be so without all the other incredibly exciting things that have happened (that I thought were the most exciting times).

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Discovering Utopia, 2010

20 Questions: Calvin Johnson of K Records, Verbicide Magazine, October, 2016

Verbicide: What song really hits you in the feels and makes you cry?

Calvin: “Malachi” by Mecca Normal.

One painting in the series “Discovering Utopia” (cover art for the Mecca Normal 7″) is still available.

The 7″ cover was included in an exhibit about Malachi Ritscher in the 2014 Whitney Biennial.

 

 

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“Malachi” 7″ on K Records


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“Discovering Utopia #3″ by Jean Smith (12 x 16” acrylic on canvas) 2010. SOLD

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“Discovering Utopia #4″ by Jean Smith (12 x 16” acrylic on canvas) 2010. SOLD

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“Discovering Utopia #5″ by Jean Smith (12 x 16” acrylic on canvas) 2010. SOLD

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“Discovering Utopia #6″ by Jean Smith (12 x 16” acrylic on canvas) 2010. $250 USD plus shipping.

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aka Shanny McIntosh

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“No Hat #116 aka Shanny McIntosh” SOLD to Courtney Jaxon

Mecca Normal “I Walk Alone” at Courtney Jaxon’s house in Arcata, CA

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“No Hat #117 aka Shanny McIntosh #2” SOLD to Mack McFarland, Director of Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at Pacific Northwest College of Art.

“Essentially you have a culture of peoples who have often been neglected to the background of the history books but through sheer perseverance and talent have altered the ways in which we participate with each other in these cultural places and ultimately it comes down to being a part of a communal atmosphere and the inherent joys and hardships of being in a community.” – Shanny McIntosh

This post relates to Vol. 408 of my weekly column, January 14, 2017, in Magnet Magazine

 

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Mecca Normal Song Debut

VIDEO: $100 USD portrait paintings (11 x 14″ acrylic on paper and canvas panels) currently available.

Debut of “Critical” by Mecca Normal (Jean Smith and David Lester) produced by KRAMER in 2012, featuring our recording engineer Frank Falestra (aka Rat Bastard) on guitar near the end.

“Between Livermore and Tracy” (at 5:50) by Mecca Normal , from the album Empathy for the Evil (2014, M’lady’s Records). Produced by KRAMER who also plays bass on both tracks.

 

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Trans Subject

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Portraits based on a photo of trans model Andreja Pejic

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“No Hat #21″(acrylic on canvas panel, 11 x 14”) SOLD

No Hat #27 800

“No Hat #27″(acrylic on paper, 11 x 14”) SOLD

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“No Hat #28″(acrylic on canvas panel, 11 x 14”) SOLD

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“No Hat #29″(acrylic on canvas panel, 11 x 14”). $100 USD plus shipping.

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“No Hat #51″(acrylic on paper, 11 x 14”) SOLD

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“No Hat #58″(acrylic on paper, 11 x 14”). $100 USD plus shipping.

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“No Hat #60″(acrylic on canvas panel, 11 x 14”) SOLD

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“No Hat #72″(acrylic on canvas panel, 11 x 14”) SOLD

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“No Hat #79″(acrylic on canvas panel, 11 x 14”) SOLD

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“No Hat #80″(acrylic on canvas panel, 11 x 14”) SOLD

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“No Hat #83″(acrylic on canvas panel, 11 x 14”). $100 USD plus shipping.

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“No Hat #84″(acrylic on canvas panel, 11 x 14”). $100 USD plus shipping.

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“No Hat #93″(acrylic on canvas panel, 11 x 14”). $100 USD plus shipping.

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“No Hat #94″(acrylic on canvas panel, 11 x 14”) SOLD

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“No Hat #95″(acrylic on canvas panel, 11 x 14”) SOLD

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“No Hat #97″(acrylic on canvas panel, 11 x 14”) SOLD

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Making Political Art

I was on an upswing with the painting before the election results. I’ve been making a living painting $100 portraits for almost a year which I hope to continue. Upheaval as a self-employed artist is problematic. You can’t just keep going to a job and getting a paycheck which is how I’ve mainly supported myself in the last 15 years… before which I was a “professional” musician.

It was weird; just as the election results started to come in, a guy in San Francisco bought five paintings. A record sale. Then action dropped off entirely, in part because my FaceBook page is my “storefront” and I didn’t want to just keep posting paintings unrelated to what was happening politically. That seemed trite. My FaceBook friends are almost all connections through music, art and activism so, my newsfeed is basically 100% political from a leftist perspective. Interjecting paintings of mostly Caucasian women seemed disconnected if not downright absurd.

I don’t think I actually painted for the first few days, and then, when I did, I painted five or six total duds (which is highly unusual for me). A week or so later, I felt quite “human” about that. It seems my basic ability to create art is affected by what goes on in the world, but that’s a scary thing when you’re self-employed. How long would I be making lousy paintings? I aim to paint one a day, but I consistently fall short of that. I sell half of what I paint, which is exactly what I need to pay my bills. I can’t afford to do subpar paintings.

I had been switching back and forth between people and animals around the time of the election, and suddenly animals seemed like a viable direction considering how I felt about humans.

It’s weird how many animals are used to define human characteristics – including the fox (foxy, clever) – but the whole fox-hunting thing in England with a bunch of snobs (including the royal family) tracking foxes is pretty awful as far as sports go. It’s right up there with bullfighting as far as tormenting an animal and then killing it as part of the outcome is nuts.

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“Fox #4” $100 USD

Yet, I didn’t want to be steered off course, so I returned to the painting people. I had thought that animals for Christmas might be a thing sales-wise, but now I’m not so sure that’s what I should be doing. I created a FaceBook Event page offering gift certificates,  wrapping and hand-painted cards, but it didn’t get any reaction. Anyway, I’m a painter, not a card maker. I need to stay on track. Maybe discounts and free shipping are of little interest to people interested in buying a painting.

Prior to the animals, I did five or so of Standing Rock Water Protectors with 15% going to the Red Warrior Camp. The ones based on the composition below (with varying degrees of abstraction) felt appropriate in terms of both “bearing witness” and documentiation. It was September at this point, before the reaction to the water protectors became more physical. I did one in late October of the cops drenching people with water cannons, ice hanging off the razor wire, but I wasn’t happy enough with it to post it.

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“Standing Rock  Water Protectors #3” SOLD

The act of creating non-political art in public places (including online) during times of international upheaval reminded me of being on tour with Unwound and Thrones during 9/11. We were supposed to play Boston that night, but that show was canceled, partly because of the club’s name (the Middle East) and our band name being “Mecca” Normal. Evidently they got some threatening phone calls because of that. The club owner fed us an excellent meal and then we all sat around in the band room trying to figure out what to do. Continue or pull the plug on the remainder of the tour and head home. We decided to continue. Our Manhattan show at the Bowery Ballroom (9/12 I think) was canceled, so the next show was Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ which is basically considered a NY show. I desperately wanted to perform relevant songs! I felt completely ridiculous going up on stage to sing about interpersonal relationships. It was interesting though. Phones had been out in the area so people didn’t know what was going on with their friends. The show turned out to be a gathering point. People went to the show to connect with their community, to see if friends were OK, to hear what had happened to them. We were on first and because it was the first show since the attacks that many people were going to (I think it was 9/13), everyone talked through our set, which is something that would normally bug me, but, in this case, I felt like we were providing some sort of service. It felt good to be the kind of band people could talk over. No bass and drums. It felt relevant, but I never would have thought of it in advance. We played our regular set and no one listened and that was, in that moment, fine. Not totally great as a band promoting an album on tour 3000 miles from home, but… whatever.

The incredible thing about both Thrones and Unwound were that their sound took over in a way that I’d never experienced before. Visceral. The low end was therapeutic. Like some sort of massively thorough massage. The volume was like a flood of dopamine or whatever. Endorphins. I didn’t expect this. How the music felt.

Back to present day. After the recent election results in US, I made one of my paintings of a Caucasian woman “political” by painting “anti-fascist” and “sloganeer” “tattoos” instead of eyebrows (below). I’d been thinking about Woody Guthrie’s “this machine kills fascists” and came up with that idea. I marked it “not for sale” at the time because I felt like my paintings should somehow be a reaction to what’s going on, but I didn’t want to be trading on people’s emotions. Weeks later I marked it for sale.

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“No Hat 111” $100 USD

I’ve been thinking about artists who are in the middle of projects, in either creation or exhibition mode. I wonder what it feels like to be making work that isn’t related to current upheaval, work that has been in progress for a long time and needs to continue. Certainly artists can’t drop what they’re doing to respond to current events, but I’ve been wondering how those artists must feel. My approach is to continue with what I was doing with variations made based on my understanding of what’s going on around me. I’m not normalizing or ignoring, but just not stopping. Not giving up. Integrating new ideas as they arrive.

I have, in the last week or so, been painting non-Caucasian faces which is, in part, a reaction to recent events in the USA. Of the six African American faces I’ve painted two have sold.

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“The Hat #46” SOLD

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“The Hat #47” $100 USD

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“The Hat #48” $100 USD

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“The Hat #49” $100 USD

“No Hat #116” (below)  got a tremendous reaction on my FaceBook page. 141 “likes” and “loves” and 20 comments yesterday! It sold a few hours after I posted it.

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“No Hat #116” SOLD

For me, this kind of turning away from representing white people feels appropriate, but it means having to “learn” new color pallets and figuring out how to paint features that are different than the ones I’ve been painting since I began the series back in February, 2016.

There’s a point in art-making when finding new territory to explore increases motivation to work and that’s where I’m at now.

I’ve just posted “No Hat #117” (below) on my FaceBook page and I plan to paint from the same source photo at least once more.

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“No Hat #117” $100 USD

The high point so far as a political artist was in 2014 when David Lester and I were  interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! about a Mecca Normal 7″ (with a song about war protester Malachi Ritscher) featuring my painting “Discovering Utopia” on the cover (below) being included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial.

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“Discovering Utopia”

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