Pink Dildos and Dead Birds Comment on Impending Environmental Crises

Portia Munson brings her color-drenched feminism and provocative artistry to a multimedia show at P.P.O.W. gallery.

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Jan 15 2017, 5:30am

The Garden, 1996-98, mixed media installation. All images courtesy the artist and P.P.O.W.

Feminist talismans — embodied by awareness-ribbon fridge magnets and so many dolls — flood a gallery, charging forth with a forceful repurposing of innocuous objects. The photorealist paintings and sensory-overload sculptures unite to form a visual collage with a strong feminist point of view. Portia Munson sculpts and paints her way to messages of the “fleeting nature of time, the fragility of life, the representation of women, and our cultural obsession with disposable things,” as stated in the show’s description. The Garden is a solo show from Munson, with the centric piece visualized as a feminine bedroom overflowing with found synthetic items, which evoke ideas of societal waste.

In a statement on her website, the artist describes the installation as “an artificial garden one can enter [...] layered with recycled manufactured items representing flowers and creatures found in gardens and associated with women.”

Other pieces in the show include a hulking mass of items organized into the shape of a woman called Functional Women. The installation incorporates mass-produced objects that are directly related to femininity or strictly marketed towards female use.

The Garden, detail

Potpourri, 1996. Oil on linen, 16 1/4 x 18 1/4 in.

Wig, 2005. Oil on linene, 13 x 14 in.

Doll House Reliquary, 2012. Doll house and bones, 32 x 48 in.

Doll House Reliquary, alternate view

Connected to Water, 1993. Oil on linen, 14 x 12 in.

Empty, 2004. Oil on linen, 12 x 16 in. 

The Creators Project spoke with Munson about the concepts behind the aesthetics in The Garden:

The Creators Project: Frequently, found objects in art are deconstructed to take on a new meaning. What is your impetus to use everyday objects to form a new idea of feminism in the modern age?

Portia Munson: My use of found objects — objects that are made and marketed to us — when recontextualized in my work, reveals the way our culture subliminally and overtly manipulates our constructions of reality. Everyone is able to bring their own personal experience to these objects, and it makes them reflect on their own complicity with stereotyping. Functional Women, like a lot of my early work, has a renewed relevance with the Trump agenda as it reveals the way women were subjugated and objectified by items made for everyday use.

Your paintings portray new perspectives on female-oriented objects or items associated with girlishness. How do you go about choosing these objects and what sort of significance do a few of the objects have?

In the paintings, what I am trying to do is meditate on a singular object — like a doll, a vase, or perfume bottle — that is “girlish,” “innocent,” and “demeaning,” and through the act of painting, bring forth the real power of the feminized. So in the paintings, these simple subjects become mysterious, activated, and maybe even scary.

Functional Women, 2016-ongoing. Found functional objects in the form of women, dresser and table, 69 x 40 x 25 in.

Anemone Bird, 2016. Pigmented ink jet print, 15 x 18 in, edition 1 of 5

Cardinal, 2016. 
Pigmented ink jet print, 

17 x 22 in, edition 2 of 5

Man Alone, 2000. Oil on linen, 16 x 16 in.

Out of the Blue, 2000. Oil on linen, 12 x 11 in.

I notice that some of your pieces play on overwhelming and packed compositions, while others concentrate on the starkness of few objects that allow the emptiness to speak for itself. How do you go about establishing balance in your artwork?

I like to move between different ways of working — it is also dictated by what I want to say. So balance is achieved organically — it isn’t something I plan out.

What are your thoughts on humanity’s impact on the natural world? Do you believe technology, in all its contrasts to nature, can help right some of the wrongs humans have left behind?

Devastating and incredibly sad, disrespectful: these are the first words that come to mind. I personally think the destruction of the environment is an outcome of monotheistic religions that put a male figure above everything else, and over time this has had a trickle-down, devastating effect on the environment. Humans see nature as something separate from us rather than humanity being a part of it and have therefore lost their respect for nature and have exploited natural resources to a point of, perhaps, no return. It feels like there is a way for people to become educated quickly through technology. I guess there is a certain amount of hope.

Bunny Ears, 2000. Oil on linen, 9 x 11 in.

Dolphin Hairclip Under Glass, 1992. Oil on linen, 8 x 8 in.

Flower, 1999. Oil on linen, 9 x 9 in.

To see more from Portia Munson, visit her website, here and Instagram, here. The Garden shows at P.P.O.W. Gallery in New York from January 12–February 11, 2017. Find more information, here.

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