It’s gay pride and the year is 1989. A young Lyle Ashton Harris sits, clutching a cigarette, while smiling with his eyes. Demure, sweet and vicious, he enjoys being the center of attention and affection in Lyle, Gay Pride Parade, San Francisco, 1989 (2015). This image from the Ektachrome Archive - the now historical series in which Ashton Harris photographed an intimate circle of his friends, acquaintances and lovers - should not be mistaken as merely a self-portrait. The artist inserts himself into his work as a marker of pop culture, collective history and time. Like many of the artists in Everyday Muse, Ashton Harris is interested in these moments of becoming.
Eva O’Leary’s 3 channel film Spitting Image (2017) acts out the tension of becoming through the artist’s casting of young women entering adolescence. This definitive and uneasy passage is often the focus of O’Leary’s photographs and films as well as Erik Clark’s multimedia works on paper. Clark depicts his high school students, seeking to embody their stories. In Cajsa von Zeipel’s Pushing the Wall (2014) a young woman leaning and gazing out in repose, captures the angst and unrest of adolescence while exuding awareness of her own intensity.
Self-portraiture is notable as artists are invited to consider the role of the muse; with the most quotidian subject undoubtedly being oneself. Naima Green embodies her own Muse in Untitled (self portrait in 36 hours) (2017), a series of ten dye diffusion prints. Manuel Solano contemplates the depiction of self in the videos El Cuerpo Perdido (2014) and Siete (2017). Both Mickalene Thomas and Chanel Von Habsburg-Lothringen embody their own alter egos, or possibly their own fictionalized counterpart.
Using herself as model, Von Habsburg-Lothringen explores the Muse through the lens of capitalist consumption. Coleman Collins examines our society’s relationship to labor and its inevitable commodification in A Good Man is Hard to Find (2018).
Kalen Na’il Roach, Farah Al Qasimi, and Elle Pérez obscure the identities of familial subjects, considering the presence and absence of those around us through a new lens. Ironically, these subjects whom the artists know so intimately are hidden from outside view, rendering them mystery, anew.
Exploring the familiar muse, Culprit paints quasi-portraits, from memory, of persons who have resonated with her, including in these symbols of everyday use alluding to their relationship; a book, a makeup brush. Sara Cwynar’s model is Tracy, a friend whom Cwynar has photographed for ten years. Part of the Tracy series, Tracy (Rupt meaning break burst) (2017), is a direct play on the Muse motif, shot in the style of classic mid-century studio portraits but with the stains of both current and historical time soaking through the photograph, saturating it with color and richness. Hiejin Yoo’s interiors utilize such object driven symbols to evoke the intimacy which is lived daily amongst the stylized spaces.
Vaginal Davis’ works are completed entirely out of potions and elixirs strongly associated with womanhood and femininity: make up, nail polish, perfume, and hair products, exploring how object or medium may physically construct identity rendering these performative paintings. Derek Fordjour also employs symbols to consider daily power structures that exist around merits and sanctions, considering their impact on the broader human experience. Collins uses the du-rag as both material and muse in Water always seeks its own level (2018). The du-rag, with an alternate word: the wave cap, becomes imbued with aqueous imagery, and in turn seeks to symbolize migration and explores and how patterns of movement become embedded in style.
Invited to explore the admittance to the Muse role, these artists offer contemporary approaches and reinform the word’s meaning. By playing with the two values of the word, general and personal, Everyday Muse queries the difference’s significance. Ana Segovia de Fuentes’ FAG (2018) portrait confronts the viewer with linguistic reassignment as well as overt recreation of performative gender.
Esmaa Mohamoud is also interested in this inversion. By placing women in sports jerseys and men in ball gowns, she questions who may fit the Muse role, specifically in the sports sphere. John Edmonds’ Coffie (2017) removes the connotations linked to du-rags by infusing a majestic quality on the heads they adorn, rendering them symbols of self-styled beauty.
In Everyday Muse, the power dynamic between artist and model, gazing and being gazed upon, is explored across photography, video, painting and sculpture. In celebrating the quotidian, the twenty artists featured in this exhibition think through figure. Their work reorients through the familiar and available model, considering their value and shifting emphasis.