"Personified Doubles & Visual Opposites"

A collection of new drawings and paintings by artist Dawn Hunter are showing at City Art Gallery in the Congaree Vista thru October 6, 2012.

Hunter is currently an Associate Professor at the University of South Carolina. Hunter was educated at the Kansas City Art Institute, Parsons School of Design, and the Yale University Norfolk program. She received her MFA in art from the University of California, Davis and has held residencies at the Cooper Union in New York and the Royal Academy of Art in London. Her work has won many awards and grants, including a Starr Foundation Fellowship and the Amitage Prize from Sotheby’s of London. She also serves as the Foundations Coordinator in the Department of Art at the University of South Carolina.

City Art Gallery director Wendyth Wells comments, “I’ve been intrigued with Dawn Hunter and her art since her arrival in Columbia as a member of the USC art faculty. While she has shown her work at McMaster on campus, we are proud to show her work in the main gallery at City Art where visitors not only from Columbia but also from throughout the United States and the world may see her vision.”


Artist Statement

A few years ago, for fun, I used a book on traditional symbols found in Classical, Baroque, and Rococo paintings as a reference to break down the meaning of my paintings. Instead of thinking of intent by which I created my works of art, I decided to reference the meanings found and associated with the paintings in the book. I saw this as an exercise that served as a means of discovery and a way to learn about my artwork from another perspective. One of the things that I noticed was that I consistently used in my artwork blonde and brunette figures together within the compositions. This phenomenon applied to all of my unique series. The use of these two figures has been spontaneous and subconscious in the past. In my new series, "Personified Doubles and the Visual Language of Opposites," I am deliberately exploring my use of these two figures and their inherent meaning to me personally and also a larger cultural context.

Work featured in my City Art exhibition, "Personified Doubles & Visual Opposites” are works created that deliberately explore a personified phenomenon that has occurred subconsciously in previous works of mine.

The Italian Baroque painter Giovanni da San Giovanni also known as Giovanni Mannozzi painted female personifications of Dusk (Night) and Dawn in the work "Night with Dawn and Cupid," 1635. Asleep in a semi nude, sexual embrace as Dawn rests her head between Night’s legs at the base of her womb; their bodies are positioned to mimic a spiral. Their personas are representations of the phenomenon that is the cosmos, the visual language of the depiction of their bodies and unification within their embrace can be interpreted as a symbol of the equinox: ultimate harmony, or complete and whole.

Variations similar to Giovanni Mannozzi’s allegorical representations of female doubles, or paired, complementary female opposites, can be found in popular fashion editorials. If one were to take Mannozzi’s Dusk and Dawn personifications, separate the figures physically and juxtapose them within a scene that descriptively depicts unrest, one could correctly interpret the splitting and juxtaposition of the figures to be a metaphor for discord within the universe. The metaphor I just described appears frequently in contemporary fashion editorials. The bad girl (Vice) in contest with the good girl (Virtue) is cast in a homoerotic context. Within these fashion editorials, the two models are “twinned;” they have similar facial structures that imply “identical” in identity. This is contrasted; they are made “fraternal,” separated by distinctive characteristics, such as variations in hair color or skin tone. I perceive these personas composed in sexual tension and conflict, as symbolic of one identity that has been split.

Based on my basic observations, I believe that “persona splitting” is a powerful fashion editorial tactic. The models featured function frequently as iconographic female prototypes. On one level, the symbolic function of the “persona splitting” metaphorically introduces a division within time and space: splitting associative fantasy from linear reality. I believe the “persona splitting” functions on a deeper, highly personal psychological level for the reader. I believe it works in the following manner: while referencing a realm detached from reality fashion editorials encourage consumers to identify oneself with the featured symbols, models/personas. By featuring two models that mirror each other with complementary variations, the “persona splitting” editorial psychologically divides the reader’s identification and concept of self. This creates a double vision and the emergence of a visual language based in dichotomy: good/bad, blonde/brunette, light/dark, antagonist/protagonist, etc. The dichotomy divides and conquers by allowing the reader to identify with both halves. This primes the reader’s psychological response to be receptive to products that will enable self-improvement: keep the good but correct the bad with the purchase of the featured products or goods.

The work that I am creating for my sabbatical project explores the themes of Dusk and Dawn found in Giovanni Mannozzi’s artwork, Baroque and Rococo painting compositional styles, and contemporary fashion iconography. I explore personifications of Dusk and Dawn or Vice and Virtue by representing these female figures in my artwork. In these works I explore the composition, symbolism, and allegory of Baroque and Rococo painting that is often appropriated within contemporary fashion editorials. I explore the personification of Vice (greed, envy, wrath, lust, etc) by placing this personification in the context of a manicured garden. Vice will be presented in contest with Virtue (faith, fortitude, hope, charity, etc). This environment exists as an exterior setting or within the context of a lavish interior. The context of the enclosed garden or lavish interior is ideal for this theme because it is a space that reflects high culture and high culture practices.

I am accomplishing my exploratory concerns by re-contextualizing fashion iconography in a series of drawings created in the contrast of saturation of red, grey, white, black, brown, and lavendar. The contrast of saturation introduces a romantic softness to the content of the imagery, which is intended to re-interprete and expose both the consumer underpinnings of contemporary fashion photography and the seminal ideas (allegorical and compositional) of that photography which can be found in Baroque and Rococo painting.