Angela Grossmann: Doll Parts
Friday, June 12, 2015
Danielle Egan for White Hot Magazine: This girl is assembled from doll hair, faded, stained, yellow doll underwear and various body parts taken from vintage black and white photos of amateur erotica. She kneels on a white ottoman, arms contorted like a 1950s pin-up in the act of removing a bra, her lips inexpertly drawn with dark lipstick that stains her bared teeth. Her face mugs, too eager to please her audience, which is represented by looming shadows, or maybe it’s her reflection in a mirror. Her eyes seem to fix upon and chase after an arousing and mysterious, yet alien near-future. On the surrounding walls at Vancouver's Marion Scott Gallery, are 21 additional collages by artist Angela Grossmann, her new solo show “Models of Resistance,” all of which feature Grossmann’s collection of found material and reclaimed castoffs, including doll clothing, human hair, and vintage photos of dolls, puppets, erotica and war soldiers.
These assemblages, made from incongruous parts glued, taped and stitched together, might provide clues to that girl’s future: a clown-faced girl with a resigned expression, pendulous breasts, too many arms and an argyle-socked puppet leg; a fashionable waif propped up by puppet strings and big, grabby sausage hands; a topless woman with a doll’s head, giant breasts and anorexic arms, also fixed to puppet strings, nursing a porcelain baby doll; a bold, smirking woman with a prosthetic arm gripping an accordion file, an impressive tuft of pubic hair exposed, her stomach peppered with tack holes, from being pinned up on so many walls. These Barbie Doll-sized figures strike various poses, or are captured unaware in the midst of dressing up or down, all literally poised on thresholds—doorways, stairwells, stage curtains, disparate places. They seem to have such strange and exotic private lives, yet the puppet prosthetics and strings, the fragile doll clothing and the vintage photographic material combine to put them in a state of suspended animation, caught in space and time, fixed to the white gallery walls. Whose pleasure are they here to serve? And who’s holding the strings and the key to their release?
When I first start discussing “Models of Resistance” with Grossmann just prior to the show’s opening, she acknowledged that her decision to combine vintage erotica with puppet and doll parts for “Models of Resistance” has been decades in the making. But she’s been playing with paper dolls since she can remember. Born in London, the youngest of four children to card-carrying Communist artists—her mother a glamorous, political activist, her father a Holocaust orphan—her family immigrated to Canada in the early ‘70s, when Grossmann was a teen. While attending Emily Carr in the mid-1980s, she garnered early attention and acclaim for her lush, bold figurative paintings. In an era dominated by conceptual art, she cofounded a collective with four other student painters—Graham Gillmore, Derek Root, Attila Richard Lukacs—called “The Young Romantics,” a nod to the Romantic movement of the 19th century, an era dominated by Neoclassicism. (Grossmann’s collective also included self-described ‘fifth Beatle’ Doug Coupland.)
Grossmann’s capabilities as a figurative painter launched her international career and she moved from Vancouver to Paris where she was drawn to the flea markets, and vintage shops and started collecting vintage photographs, postcards, stamps and a hodgepodge of ephemera and objects bearing a strong and often haunting narrative, ranging from military pup tents, to the suitcases of war orphans, the insides of which she used as canvases for paintings. Like the magpie that collects discarded treasures for its nest, Grossmann increasingly began to incorporate her reclaimed materials into her figurative paintings. The driving theme of her works increasingly focused on cultural displacement, loss and transformative states, from the lost freedom of petty criminals (culled from a large collection of discarded prisoners’ files that she found in a thrift store, the mugshots of which she turned into elegantly dressed mixed media portraits), to the transition from childhood to puberty. In 2006, Grossmann was included among the top 100 artists of influence in an Art Newspaper poll of art school students at 11 schools in the UK, yet her mixed media figurations have relied less and less on paint as the uniting force, and more so on the visceral act of reassembling her reclaimed materials. Her collages bear the marks of the artist’s deft, bold hand with the calculated use of glue, tape, pins and string, and by the act of ripping, slicing, scraping and stitching together, all of which heightens the drama and tension, as if each of her figures has been surgically brought back to life.