Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Studio Visit with Clarity Haynes by Suzanne Broughel

Clarity Haynes is among the new members who recently joined tART, so this visit was a nice opportunity for me to get to know her and her work better. Her studio space in Brooklyn is filled with images of women’s bodies – drawings and paintings.  Some of the paintings are much larger than life size.  Only a specific portion of each woman’s body is depicted: the unclothed breasts, framed by chin and waistline.  She started this “Breast Portrait Project” in 1998, making pastel drawings at women’s festivals – a healing environment where some women chose to walk topless.  She has also conducted workshops with women, using art as a means of self acceptance and appreciation regarding the body.   The invested persistence and evolution of this project show in the nuances of Clarity’s work.  There have been gaps as long as five years where she did not work on it, and the largest canvases – among my favorites – are a recent step. 

I asked Clarity why she doesn’t include her subjects’ faces and she told me that “when you have a face, it becomes about the face”, which is “more narrative, in another way.” Speaking with Clarity and viewing this work, it is clear how central a woman’s breasts are to her body image – and how the depictions of naked breasts that we are used to seeing collectively – in Western art history and popular culture - affect our own self image.  In Clarity’s paintings and drawings, I see the female body in all its beautifully complex realness and variety – not the photoshopped, commercialized, stringently edited versions that are ubiquitous and practically unavoidable. Clarity is particularly interested in affirming women’s bodies as they age, and challenging rigid ideas of “ideal” size, shape, skin tone and texture.  Something that really struck me is that, though this project – in its current iteration - is very much about painting, it is also participatory.  Women aren’t just static “models”.  She maintains a book where the women write down their thoughts on their own relationship with their body – alongside their photo.  I loved going through this book.  Though the drawings and paintings stand on their own, it added rich layers to my experience of them.

The work I am choosing for tART’s “Collectively Assembled “ show is the breast portrait of Roxanne, a very muscular bodybuilder.  This painting raises so many important questions about our assumptions on race, gender, and iconic imagery.  It led to some wonderfully strong conversation during our studio visit.  Particularly after I read Roxanne’s entry in Clarity’s book, I knew this was the painting for the show – and I’ve asked Clarity to include Roxanne’s writing and photo in the gallery.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Studio Visit With SUZANNE BROUGHEL by Sandra Mack-Valencia

A Studio Visit With SUZANNE BROUGHEL by Sandra Mack-Valencia

         A long train ride home is awaiting as I leave Suzanne Broughel's studio visit. A long commute that is actually very welcomed as I was left with quite a load of information and ideas to think about. Suzanne's work -in her own words, "is not black or white, right or wrong, but a way to start conversations." That is exactly how it feels after her visit. We just got started, and I am eager to see more, to talk more, to know more. 

Suzanne's ability to make work anywhere frees her from the necessity of having a permanent studio space. Sometimes she works at home, sometimes at a specific site, or just wherever the flow of her artistic routine allows her. For this studio chain visit, I met Suzanne at the Arts East New York Inc gallery, where she is currently showing 2 pieces in the exhibition "Threadz: Untwining Mistaken Messages Within The Fabric Of Hip Hop", which was curated around the subject of the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin and the perceptions of Hip Hop culture.

Suzanne's work is undeniably political. Her pieces are charged and powerful, and also visually striking. It amazed me how she is so passionate about the concept, and so equally concerned about the aesthetics and presentation of the work. Her materials are rather common, and -like she describes them, "easily accessible and low budgeted". You won't find Suzanne at Pearl or Utrecht, she prefers to get her art materials at a Duane Reade, in thrift shops, or just in the street. Her materials go from basketballs, bandaids, and inexpensive t-shirts from unknown brands, to pennies dipped in foundation make-up, braids made of shoelaces and buttons gotten at e-bay.  Her objects are usually linked to a particular culture: the African American one.

Race, racism, categories, labels, appropriation.  All these concepts are constantly in Suzanne's discourse, and one can understand that better by looking a little deeper into her childhood. She grew up in Yonkers, where racial division was clear enough to have little 6-year-old Suzanne feel there was something strange going on. Her house was situated right at the border that divided the white territory from the black one. Her family lived on the "black school district" side of the street, therefore she had to attend a predominantly black elementary school where she had a great time and had good friends, but did not comprehend well why after school things felt different. Her father was not totally comfortable with having his little girl grow up among African Americans, and she did not socialize with her black classmates outside of school. After having to lie about her address, she attended middle school in a predominantly white school, but after that her high school years reunited her with the black friends from her childhood, only by this time,the separation had made them virtual strangers.

We looked at many of her pieces.  Basketballs punched with big holes, referring to both: commercialization of a culture by literally selling pieces of a basketball touched by a Sports Superstar, and also to gunshots. Braids made of shoelaces or t-shirts speak about appropriation of a culture.  Pennies dipped in different foundation make-up colors and then stamped on a white piece of cloth talk about economics and inequality. 

From all the works we discussed, the one I chose for this studio chain exhibit is a work currently in progress. It consists of hundreds of political campaign buttons from different years. Suzanne has removed the political party name and has left only the message.  This is how messages without a specific messenger turn into a marvelous unanimous utopia claiming for a better world.  It struck me that no matter if you are a democrat or republican, left or right, they all say positive things.  I guess after being assigned by Carrie to paint my childhood idea of a heaven populated by all kind of animals getting along, why not to have all politicians getting along as well!
Sandra Mack-Valencia 06/27/2012