Saturday, May 4, 2013

PORTLAND: Vaginal Davis and Philadelphia Wireman

Images, left to right: Philadelphia Wireman, Untitled (wire, paper, plastic), c. 1970–75, wire, found objects, 4 inches high; Vaginal Davis, Untitled, 2012, glycerine, Britney Spears eye shadow, Wet N Wild nail polish, water color pencils, Afro Sheen Hair Conditioner, Extra Hold Aqua Net hair spray on Cornflakes box, 10 1/4 x 7 1/4 inches.

May 3 – June 1, 2013

811 East Burnside #213
Portland, OR

Vaginal Davis and Philadelphia Wireman engage in a personal and idiosyncratic alchemy using cheap and discarded materials–including eye shadow, hairspray and nail polish, tape, batteries, and wire–that are mixed, smeared or bound together. Obsessive, intuitive and prolific, both Davis’ and Wireman’s works are powerful forms of portraiture, which conjure mysterious figures, both real and invented, otherworldly and historical.

Vaginal Davis is a performance artist, painter, independent curator, writer, film maker, musician, and self-proclaimed “doyenne of intersexed art.”  After leaving her hometown of Los Angeles for Berlin in 2006, Davis began to cover the walls of her new studio/apartment with hundreds of paper clippings, almost exclusively the heads and bodies of men cut from newspapers, magazines and her own snapshots.  As this collage began to eclipse the white walls completely, Davis started to create small paintings of women, which she intersperses among the otherwise overwhelmingly and overbearingly male photomontage. These intimate paintings of women exists as equal parts self-portrait and homage.

Using her own personal beauty products as pigments for her paintings, Davis places the small scale works amidst her living collage of appropriated images of men, in a sense replicating her own real life experience as an independent, self-made woman navigating the complexities of a male dominated culture. However, when Davis presents the paintings outside of the context of her apartment, each gains individuality by being given a title that references a specific woman from history. Much of Davis’s work, as well as the formation of her own identity, continues to be concerned with assembling and referencing a lineage of unknown histories of independent, outlaw, and visionary female figures ranging from Hollywood stars, to artists, cultural icons, writers and fictional characters.  Each painting becomes a portrait and a tribute, granting its subject a space of prominence, power and visibility.

In the late 1970s a cache of over one thousand distinctive wire sculptures was found discarded on the street in Philadelphia. The collection of objects came to be attributed to a single person, who remains unknown. The Philadelphia Wireman sculptures consist of different gauges of wire wrapped around everyday objects and materials including food packaging, umbrella parts, tape, batteries, pens, foil, coins, toys, watches, eyeglasses, tools, and jewelry. While these assemblages resonate with historical and contemporary art practices alike, it is also possible that these mysterious bundles are an American iteration of traditional African power objects.

Vaginal Davis and Philadelphia Wireman share creative practices that might be more readily considered in relation to divination or magic, where the act of creation is always linked to belief, and understood and employed as a profoundly powerful force. Both Wireman’s sculptures and Davis’ paintings are entirely specific to the contexts in which they were created, but their resonance in the gallery setting lies in their displacement and their new role as ambassadors of purpose from the worlds of their makers.

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