Monday, June 13, 2011

Venus of El Segundo and Venus of Willendorf

Bonnie and Clyde, Adam and Eve, Thelma and Louise.  I want to talk about another great couple, The Venus of El Segundo and The Venus of Willendorf.  This piece was made in the 80's out of Baltic birch plywood panel with waffle board back so it will never bend or flex.  The front surface is gold leafed and then covered with clear lacquer.  The image you see is carved into the wood through the gold leaf.  When it was finished, I flooded the surface with indigo ink.  It sunk into the exposed wood and I was able to wipe the ink off the gold leaf.  It’s a nice piece of drawing, very volumetric.  Nice to touch.  The comparison of images is vivid fat, fullness vs. slim compression.   The piece is a diptych--two panels.  The Barbie panel is 6 feet tall 2 feet wide.  That image was made from a photograph that I took of a 1957 Barbie.   I drew it from a photo I made because I wanted it to be very accurate.    I used a photograph of the Venus of Willendorf to make my other drawing.  The Venus of Willendorf panel has the same number of square inches but it’s a different proportion—it’s about 5 feet tall, 3 feet wide. Barbie is staring at Willendorf but Willendorf can’t return the glare because her wool hat is pulled over her eyes.

I’m telling you about this piece because I think it’s one of the greatest pieces that I’ve made.  Just think for a minute of people in the far distant future going to a museum of anthropology and looking at artifacts of the people that lived from 1950 to 2050—a short period of human history.  One of the images that keeps reoccurring is this female Venus figure.  The clothing wouldn’t survive—just the naked figure of Barbie—and maybe the plastic wouldn’t either—by that time the plastic would have perished—and there would be very few Barbies left.  So each Barbie would be a fossil—the plastic, due to certain conditions, wore away.  This plastic was dissolved and replaced with a harder material like granite.  So that the actual sculpture is not the actual Barbie, but a fossil of Barbie.   In any case, we’re thinking about the future.  We have no context, only the statue.  It’s displayed in a vitrine with a little metal rod holding it up.  It’s called the Venus of El Segundo because El Segundo, California, is where Barbies were manufactured.  So people would think, “Why is this figure so elongated?  Why are the eyes so big?  Why doesn’t it have nipples?  Why is the body so smooth? Why such small hands? Why such small feet? Why such long legs?”  There would be all kinds of explanations to these questions.  Scholars would be writing theories, and students would be writing papers about what they think this artifact means.  What does it tell us about the people that lived during that era, 1950-2050?  Let’s go back 15000-20000 years, somewhere in that range, to a birthday party of a 6 year old girl.  Her father didn’t know what to get her for her birthday, there weren’t any stores back then.  He was a handy guy and found a piece of stone and carved out an image of the perfect women.  It was not an original idea—there were many similar images of the perfect female form.  It was special because he carved it for his daughter.  He wrapped it up in a basket made out of grasses and presented it to his daughter at her birthday party.  When she got it, she loved it.  She felt it, held it,  played with it, fed it,  she even made a little house for her Venus.  She and her girlfriends made clothing for it out of materials that were around her.   She and the people of that time had no idea that this Venus would ever end up in a museum with people looking at it.  It was a doll, it was a toy; it was a teaching toy to tell the little girl what means to be a woman.  Just like how our Barbies are teaching tools to tell our daughters what it is to be a woman.
 I don’t know if anybody’s thought to make the comparison between Venus of Willendorf  and Barbie.  It seems silly or funny because it poses something so profound.  It tells us that in human evolution, we are so close to the people that made the Venus of Willendorf, that we might have been at the girl’s birthday party.   That’s why I think this piece is so great—it gives you a new way of looking at Barbie and the Venus of Willendorf, illustrating the concept of the ideal.   

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