When I saw Ann-Marie’s work for the first time, the first thing that came into my mind was the word “trend”. Ann-Marie adapts an illustrative style to draw girls with big dreamy eyes and cutesy animals who are often lying down in a fantasy land in soft pastel hues. One cannot help but think about popular trendy clothing companies, or design boutiques such as Urban Outfitters, or Anthropologie, looking at her work at first.

Well, it is well known that those stores often are directly influenced by artists’ work for their window displays without giving any credit to the artists who inspired them. Now, they also sell arty books and art toys. I always think they are targeting the younger, hipster generation to sell not only products but their whole hipster style as well.

Like those trendy designer boutiques, there is definitely something irritating yet attractive about Ann-Marie’s work.  At first, I found her work online, on her blog and on Facebook. I wanted to know more about the work because I have been building my curiosity towards her images. Although Ann-Marie doesn’t quite enjoy the word “Trend” there is something important about this in her new body of work. I think it plays a stronger role in her new works which she will be showing at White Space Gallery, this coming September in Atlanta.

The female figures Ann-Marie paints look to be in their teens or in their early twenties: adolescence/ early adulthood. They often appear naive or appearing cute, posed toward the camera. The environments are strange enough to be scary but are rather charming or fantasized with candy-coated colors. It seems like every object, the animals or even the girls themselves, are muted in the situation. Or perhaps, they might be under some sort of spell? Because of all these likeable images and colors, you as the viewer, are under the spell, and have a hard time understanding what is really going on in the pictures. Seduction is a big part of Ann-Marie’s new works. (Ann-Marie refers to her girls as “femme fatale.”)

Ann-Marie is interested in the idea of how media affects people in America. She says that her interest of muting violence relates to how Americans (perhaps the rest of world, too!) are experiencing a war in the Middle East only through the media- disconnected from the true realities of war.

Her recent discovery of the female suicide bombers who are empowered to kill themselves in the Middle East is an important subject among her paintings.

In “Road Block“ the girl is wearing a strange bandana made out of panties! She is standing against a black river where swans swim around carelessly. How amusing for the girl to wear a panty as a bandana! And yes, those pretty faces with big-eyed, naïve-looking Urban Outfitter girls could be any one of us.

Excerpts from Interview:

JM: Why did you decide to use female figures in your recent work? I see women of a certain age taking a big role in your recent works (from your previous solo at Whitespace in 2008 and recent works) Is there any specific or important reason why your work shifted? I see your previous work, such as Cat Fight at Swan Coach House Gallery, as quite different. You have made simplified figures or graphic landscapes before.

AMM: In the past, I used animals symbolically and as metaphors for emotive themed work. They were stand-ins for the figure or myself. Since emotions can be all over the place, depending on the circumstance, the imagery would change accordingly. The Cat Fight exhibit was during a time of great personal change/happenings in my life and therefore is reflected in the work. The shift from animals to the female figure was a slow process. I began by morphing animal characteristics with my female model. After the dogs, she was part rabbit and part human. It eventually led to pure human. The “Trip for Two” series that was at Whitespace in 2008, was the beginning of the model as human and metaphor for myself and feelings. For that exhibition, and work thereafter, I tapped into the memory of a drawing that I made from childhood that was so connected to my drawing style today and who I am as a person. It was a drawing of multiple animals, birds and insects in love, so the “Trip for Two” drawings became a love experience between the model and surrounding animals along a river journey.

JM: There is an underlying current of violence or implied violence in your work. Can you talk a little bit about the “muting” or displacement of violence taking place in your images?

AMM: The violence is completely implied or muted for two main reasons. One, as a non-military American who is fed the war via television and the Internet, I am completely, along with the majority of Americans, disconnected from the true realities of war. How can I begin to understand what war is really like? I don’t go there, because I don’t know there, so the work is an honest reflection of my current state and potentially the state of many others. Secondly, I can’t even watch violence on TV, or most of TV for that matter. Really, I don’t watch television at all, but one 45-minute program a week. I have to self-preserve or I would probably be in tears everyday. Therefore, the implied violence is complete fantasy. It is like the game Candyland went to war.

JM: When I look at your images, I can’t help but think that they would not look out of place in Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie, or other hip design stores. Is fashion something you think about when you are working?

AMM: Ha, ha! I never thought of that and it is an interesting observation. Perhaps, because when my model shows up, she is wearing whatever she had on that day. I don’t dress her and I do think that her clothes very much represent a large group of young women…at least those who live in the city. I’m surrounded by art students when I teach and a plethora of young artists and their style is all their own. Perhaps, if I lived out in the country my model would be wearing baggie jeans and an oversized t-shirt from Wal-Mart. I can say that I have specifically stayed away from any kind of traditional, oppressing fashion such as that of the Burka. I couldn’t paint that if you made me. It is not my goal to be so direct or literal. Instead I reference slight covering of the face with a mask that I made out of lacy panties, dish clothes, rabbit furs or designs that I just made up.

JM: What does the word “trend” mean to you? Can you tell me if trends have any value in your content?

AMM: I wouldn’t say the word trend crosses my mind, but I did want this new body of work to be connected to a current event. In the past, the works were psychological narratives, but not about anything political or current. I found that researching the female suicide bombers was a way to tie in the feminine psychological qualities that I like to explore with something relevant worldwide. Additionally, the BP oil disaster occurred while this work was in progress, and I have been using black paint more liberally in larger flat areas of the composition. Someone who looked at the work mentioned that they thought the black road I painted looked like a river of oil. I guess when things like that are out there, one begins to make those connections, whether they are subconscious or not.

* The reason why I mention “Trend” is because of your style in your work. It is catchy, style of popular illustration that could appear in fashion magazine or design catalogue. The girls also seem posed and has strong gaze towards camera like models of those magazines. Your color choice seems to add that as well. For me, it is not a bad thing at all especially for your new body of works, it shows your explanation of how naive we are as people who only experience war in the Middle East through such media. It makes contrast and mystery. I think it is a statement.

JM: Tell me about your new focus on your upcoming solo show at Whitespace? The title Softcore War is intriguing. Can you elaborate on that?

AMM: I recently have been intrigued by the growing popularity of female suicide bombers in the Middle East. For once, a woman was empowered to be a part of something powerful on her own terms. Yet, the horrible reality is that they are only empowered to die. I read an article about a young female suicide bomber in a New York Times Magazine and discovered more information about their plight. I was also intrigued to find out that sometimes these women were caught before they executed their mission because they would stand out after having applied heavy make-up. They would apply the make-up to look beautiful in heaven. There would also be dual remote bomb detonators in case the woman got cold feet, someone else nearby would press the button for her.

Ann-Marie Manker’s work is on view at the National Museum of Woman in the Arts in Washington DC. As part of the group show: Women to watch 2010, body of work: New perspectives on figure painting.

July 2, 2010-September 12, 2010

Her solo show will open this coming September at Whitespace in Atlanta

Exhibition dates: September 10 – October 9, 2010

Ann-Marie’s blog


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