The Venice Art Walk (this weekend, May 16 and 17) is the oldest, most adventurous event of its kind on L.Aâ€™s cultural calendar. And while it may be the only to charge (starting at $50 â€“ actually a great value) it also offers the best opportunities in town to snap up remarkable works of art at a silent auction that includes more than 400 original works by many of the best artists now working in L.A. And it is for an extremely good cause â€“ the Venice Family Clinic, now pushing 30 and the largest free clinic in the U.S., serving more than 23,000 Angelenos annually.
The White House revealed the new official White House Portrait of Michelle Obama today. I’m working on a series of portraits right now and am obsessed with the subject. Even though I love her signature bare arms, I found the blue curtain exploding directly above the center of her head a curious choice of composition, as well as the white rose blocking her hand.
It reminded of John Baldessari’s “Wrong”, a photograph he made in response to a photography book telling would be artists that strong vertical design elements sprouting from people’s heads in a photograph or painting is wrong.
While he was surely mocking the idea of there being a “right” when you make art, I think this White House photographer needs a spanking.
There is a riot of color issuing forth from the First Lady’s closet and I cannot wait to see what she wears next. Say what you will about whether or not it was “appropriate” to wear a cardigan to meet the Queen or whether that balloon skirt was flattering, Michelle Obama is a Master Colorist — and I as well as my artist friends could not be more ecstatic.
A Collage of Michelle Recent Outfits
A woman’s journey through fashion is a life cycle in and of itself. As I look at the bold strokes of Michelle’s color sense today I reflect upon Michelle’s journey in fashion and color as one that might parallel my own and other women like her.
As a young girl, I thought of fashion and color as a means to make myself more attractive to the opposite sex. My grandmother once told me, “Red and yellow, catch a fellow; pink and blue, keep him true.” My entire sense of fashion was about sexualization and objectification. I essentially wanted to make myself look pretty for the boys I had crushes on. At camp I would look at Seventeen, Vogue, Cosmo and Bazaar. But when I went to college, I got serious about my studies and great literature and momentarily shunned fashion or looked down upon caring too much about it. This was not just because I didn’t have any money to pay for it. It was also due to the culture inside the Ivory Tower — and I believe many other Ivy League-type schools — which mostly eschews fashion in exchange for the idea that the main purpose of our bodies is to provide a container for our brains. So while I may have I swooned over the finery described in words during a Proustian night at the Opera, fashion stayed in my head whereas Levi’s, a comfortable Gap t-shirt and a cool leather jacket was my uniform.
Obama, Matisse and J. Crew
It is often after women leave the university and enter the workforce that a different sense of fashion emerges and we pick up the magazines again, first for ideas and then reading them with new eyes. I started to become more cognizant of fashion as a language. Navigating the workforce was confining for me at first and my leftover sexy sense of fashion led to unwanted passes. Even though my first job was in the design industry, it was a very macho, male-dominated environment, not unlike Mad Men. There was a need to balance looking creative, smart and tough if you were to be taken seriously. I opted for a reinvention/upgrade of my student self and learned that black boots or heels and a crisp white shirt is better for negotiating a room full of men. I lived in San Francisco. It was often grey and cloudy. And with the exception of an occasional red sweater, most of my wardrobe was black. It was very easy to go shopping. While I only touched color with cool scarves, I had unwittingly become a student of the silhouette. Languages, after all, must be learned one word and one phrase at a time.
Obama, Cezanne, Narcisso Rodriguez
And this is where a lot of us working girls sleep walk well into our late twenties. We’re finally earning money and can afford a fabulous shoe. For me, I had moved to Los Angeles and the working girl uniform from San Francisco was no longer cutting it. (The different fashion styles of San Francisco and Los Angeles is a subject in and of itself.) I suddenly no longer saw fashion as a weapon of either sexuality or power in the work place, but rather as a universe of fabric, texture, color just as vibrant as the ones on my palette in the studio. I often dived into one color at a time, learning what works, what makes sense together and what looks best on me. After gaining a certain confidence, women learn to really celebrate themselves and life itself through what they choose to wear. That is what Michelle Obama is doing with color and so much more.
In reality, a woman’s journey in color and fashion is a sign of a healthy society. All the most oppressive regimes towards women cover them in black. I don’t care what the faux religious excuses of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan are. The silence of color in an entire culture is emblematic of the suppression of women’s spirit and influence on it’s culture. Michelle Obama’s use of color and fashion is empowering and enlightening to the women in this country. It is the fashion equivalent of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” and awakens in all of us the beauty of life and every day. As an artist, I am doubly appreciative of splashes of chartreuse and yellow, purple and green as fly across my television and computer screen. As an American Woman, I am filled with pride and hope it spreads like a California Wildfire.
***First Person Artist is a weekly column by artist Kimberly Brooks in which she provides commentary on the creative process, technology andshowcases artists‘ work from around the world. Paintings from Brooks’ recent series, “Technicolor Summer”, will be on view at the Tarryn Teresa Gallery April 10 in a show curated by Yasmine Mohseni. Come back every Monday for more Kimberly Brooks.
I received an email recently notifying me that I was “tagged” in a facebook entry called “25 Things You Don’t Know About Me” from an old friend. We actually went on a few dates many many years ago and I haven’t seen him in about three years, but we’ve remained friends. Curious, I clicked on the link and learned twenty five things about him I never knew, like the rest of his four hundred friends. He’s a very witty guy, so it wasn’t quite like “I like piÃ±a coladas and getting caught in the rain,” but in another way, it was oddly close. By tagging me he was requesting, or essentially daring me, along with the other nine friends he had tagged, to do the same thing. I impulsively started to do it and then never posted anything.
My Facebook life started off about a year and a half ago with friends and people I know closely, then my family started dribbling in, and the next thing I knew my friends included that person from a job I had ten years ago, students I’ve taught at art school, that really weird guy from high school, and an old roommate in college… and on and on it continued. That was the first sign of “friend leakage”, where I had expanded beyond the scope of intimate friends and was venturing into people outside of my circle, but usually by only a few degrees — at least I knew them.
Then things started getting out of hand. It started with a friend who is a supreme animal rights crusader with a very sexy, come-hither thumbnail picture. I haven’t seen her in years but she wrote a book and is semi-famous for the cause, so because of her, I have about one hundred extra friends. I know this because when someone requests that they be my friend in Facebook, I can see all the friends we have in common. I kept seeing this one friend, and then I realized I had become a part of the save the animals movement because our mutual friends kept including the friends I had met through her. Honestly, I started to get a little loose about whom I would “friend”– that’s right, Facebook made me feel promiscuous– I would wait then say, “Oh what the hell, after all, we have mutual friends.” It was then when I truly appreciated the fractal component of the friending process.
“The Facebook Friending Process” (Illustration courtesy of Mandelbrot)
When I joined initially, I saw in Facebook something that resembled the early days of AOL when people were giddy about first sending emails and buddy lists and instant messaging were all the rage. Unlike many other people, who put videos of their kid’s first step, pictures from their recent barbecue and the details of their love life (options are “single”, “in a relationship”, “married” and “it’s complicated”), I try not to reveal too much — at least I don’t think I do — but even that’s getting blurry. At some point I must have made the decision that because I am an artist, my work is something I want and need to share, and I think of Facebook as one of many tools to do that. I’ve also come to consider one’s digital footprint to be, in a sense, another form of existence outside of the physical body. And it’s scope and appearance needs to be tended to so that it compositionally represents the portrait you want to present to the outside world.
But what struck me as so odd about the request for 25 secret things about me was I instantly envisioned that I could be creating a white paper on my entire spiritual, intellectual and life DNA. Imagine getting friended by someone who you’ve been set up with on a date, and he goes on your site to read what would ordinarily be doled out like pearls rolling down a pillow after an intimate evening over months or years of getting to know each other. If you fully fill out the profile questionnaire, you could let someone know every movie or favorite song you like, your favorite hobby and, along with your photos, video and baby pictures, it would read like a map of your very essence.
Kimberly Brooks. Detail from “Delivery” Oil on Panel. 2004
Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that Amazon would close Cody’s Books on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, along with countless other independent bookstores; that I’d see a “going out of business” sign at the Tower Records down the hill; that bloggers and aggregators would somehow supplant (usurp?) journalists for news sources and that the New York Times (The New York Times!) would mortgage it’s building to stay alive.
I cannot help but to cast my mind forward. My ten year old son started a blog while we were at a dinner party. Now he wants to spend hours gathering cool content for it to show his friends. When he’s not begging me for a phone, it’s for me to blog about his blog so he can get a bigger audience. I wonder what they will call the generation who grows up with all this. I believe Time Magazine called mine “X” because it was right after the baby boomers and we hadn’t defined ourselves yet (well, we showed them). Then came “Generation Y” because it was after us. I would rename this one Generation “E” for “Exhibitionist”, (we can throw in “Exposure” and “Electronic” while we’re at it.) These social networking applications are grafted onto their gray matter and perhaps they might never know what mystery is. They’ll google or “friend” every classmate, teacher, co-worker, boss and know everything there is to know about that person. There will be no more boundary between “personal” and “professional”. Everyone will engage in wanton fractal friending and be connected with each other and Kevin Bacon. Maybe, if everybody becomes friends, this is how we will achieve Peace on Earth!
My husband is not on Facebook. I’m kind of jealous. He talks to a small group of people one-on-one via email. Because at the end of the day, and I mean that quite literally, Facebook has become another inbox for me to check. Maybe it’s because I always want to be mysterious or that as an artist, like Greta Garbo, “I just vant to be alone.”
(Published on The Huffington Post)
Two weeks ago, I was just about to send a fall newsletter and hop on a plane to NY when I received a call from my brother that my father, Leonard Shlain, was going in for emergency brain surgery. He made it through, but the tumor was determined to be malignant. He is a very beloved man and many of you are probably familiar with his books (“Art & Physics”, “The Alphabet vs The Goddess” and “Sex, Time & Power”.) Ironically he was in the process of completing his latest book â€œLeonardoâ€™s Brainâ€ about Leonardo Da Vinci. I made a get well site for him at www.leonardshlain.com and if you would like to leave a comment I’m sure he would love to read them.