May 18, 2009

Fashioning a Barbie

Extra care requires making extra parts. When creating the square painted papers for my collage "Sleeping Standing Up," I made several extra 4" squares of paper sized with light blue gesso. After painting most of them and placing my select few onto the large work, I had to do something with the rest. What to do with about ten extra sized pieces of blue paper? The answer came from an unlikely source - a vintage Barbie doll collection. I had brought the dolls out of storage with the intent of selling them off. But before parting with them, I thought it best to paint them first. I sized gold and silver leaf onto paper and carefully traced the shape of the dolls’ heads onto the gilded and silver leafed surfaces. I then cut out the shape and stored these for later use. I mounted the silver and gold with the cut out shapes on to the blue gesso paper. I built a textured paper frame around the leaf - pink for silver and brown with blue for gold. I then carefully painted these iconic doll faces on each square page. There was the Barbie with the bubble hair bob from 1963. There was a fashion Barbie with a strange headress with gold stripes. A Skipper doll was also immortalized in acrylic paint on paper, as was Barbie of the late sixties. G I Joe made an appearance as well - the only man so far in the little square doll portraits.
Despite their design to appeal, the faces looked almost ghoulish to me - the overly long necks with eyes too blue, noses too small, and mouths too demure. Painting them caused me to reflect upon standards of feminine beauty. Despite the "improvements" to Barbie throughout the years, I found that my preference leaned towards her earliest incarnations - the design adapted directly from Lily the fetish doll. There was a remotely Oriental look to her, with those narrow eyes askance. Perhaps I had a nostalgia for a fifties era that I was not a part of. Or perhaps I was just intrigued by the idea of painting an image of something meant for men that ironically became the provenance of little girls.
How arbitrary and fleeting are concepts of beauty. This very mutability of the desirable is what I find so fascinating. What creates a desire for certain proportions and a predilection for a narrow range of coloring? I look at these Barbie dolls and despite their appeal, seem to mock our choices - holding a mirror up to our tastes and finding them bizarre with the passage of years.

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