I don’t think I’ve featured any street art yet, so this will be a first for Pigtails in Paint. This is by an artist who calls himself Vinz (many artists in the street art and lowbrow art scenes adopt pseudonymous monikers under which they create their art) and it was located in the Barrio de El Carmen section of Valencia, Spain for only a few days before it was dismantled by the authorities. As with many street artists, Vinz’s work is generally political in nature; he describes this piece thusly:
“This wall is a tribute to the miners’ women (wives, daughters, sisters, girlfriends…) who are in Asturias, León and Teruel, fighting for their labor rights while the miners walked 500 km to Madrid during the ‘Marcha negra’ strike.”
The nude figures in his work generally have bird’s heads, symbolizing their connection to nature, and their nudity reflects their physical, spiritual and creative freedom, for which they are sometimes persecuted. You can see a few more photos of this particular painting here.
Now that summer is ending, I wanted to do a post that felt appropriate. Little did I know that this artist’s experiences in Europe would provoke some of my own memories. When I was stationed in Germany I naturally made many friends with the families of my fellow soldiers. During my time there one of our unit’s helicopters went down in a deep lake in Bavaria, killing both pilots. The recovery operation was tricky and took several weeks, and soldiers were needed to perform mundane services and guard military equipment from the curious locals. The amusing thing was that officers were put up in the local hotel on the coast while the enlisted men were put in a little gasthaus inland. We had a great time, because the proprietors prepared authentic German food for us while the officers got faux-German tourist fare. Because I spoke the language, I bonded with the families who ran the place and was even invited to have dinner with the mayor. I tried everything on the menu, even things that had mysterious ingredients, and slept blissfully under a feather bed every night. When I had to leave, the old matriarch there gave me her recipe for apple strudel. I visited this small village several times during my remaining tour in Germany, but once back in the States it was impractical to stay in touch. Those memories are still so bittersweet to me.
There is little biographical information on Chris Madaio because he was not a professional photographer, but he was born in the late 1940s or early 50s, educated and trained as an engineer and served in the U.S. Navy when this country was embroiled in the Vietnam conflict. Madaio, however, was stationed in Europe and made friends with locals and got to hone his photography skills. That was a fortunate hobby, because he would have a more vivid record of his time there. He also had the good fortune to return from time to time and reinforce the bonds he had with the children as they were growing up.
Madaio gathered many of his best photos and published them in a book called Il Ritratto Giovanile (Portraits of Youth) in 1996 through Ophelia Editions. He focused on girls because he believed the mood of a book on girls would be very different than one that included boys. Madaio’s observation was astute and I have often commented that although children are charming generally, there is something exceptional about girls. He did conceive a similar project about boys, but there is no sign that it reached fruition.
This collection covers twenty years of his work starting in the mid-1970s. He got to see the change in attitude about photographing people in public and children in particular. He comes off as a bit defensive and tries to explain why he has chosen this subject matter. He emphasizes the enthusiastic participation of his subjects and their pleasure with the results of his work. The photographs were taken in Italy, France and Spain and it was common practice for undeveloped girls to go without tops at public beaches. Although Madaio’s work shows off the natural beauty of the girls, there are no nudes in the book at all and the girls shown here were wearing the customary attire of their culture. That gives the images a feeling of being candid but not especially intimate.
This image appears on the book’s cover. Madaio wanted titles that use the native language of his subjects.
I find expressions of rapt attention particularly compelling as in this image of a girl focused on a tiny shell.
When executed well, black and white photography brings out the velvety quality of skin, regardless of color.
No summer day is complete without a bit of tree climbing.
By the end of this project, Madaio was shooting about half his images in color. This is an especially charming scene that makes use of an old-country alley.
There are so many beautiful images in the book. I only selected these (as I do with every artist) to give the reader an idea of the scope of his images.
I made a post on Flor Garduño over a year ago, but I have since uncovered some new material by her, so she’s getting a second (albeit small) post here.
Yes, I know I’ve posted this one before, but this seems like a slightly improved version, so it’s going up. What strikes me most about Garduño’s images are the spare but well-considered compositions, and this is one of the best. This image, in another photographer’s hands, could’ve been flat, but Garduño gives it depth with her choice of lighting.
[Editor’s update, 2016/06/29: A larger version has been inserted, coming from the artist’s website.]
The young subject of this photo is also called Flor, it seems. Her daughter perhaps? Notice the seahorses decorating her hair. The best portraits often have a visual hook–for this one it is the seahorses in the hair.
This is one of my favorite photos by Garduño. I really wish there was a larger version online. She’s like a little atavistic superhero, and every bit as majestic standing on that log. If only she really did have superpowers . . .
[Editor’s update, 2016/06/29: Wish granted! A larger version has been inserted, coming from the artist’s website.]
Another interesting nude portrait. A few props turn what would otherwise have been a fairly standard portrait into a fascinating character study. There is something intriguing about Garduño’s little naked angels, fairies and supergirls.
 Since we have been updating and adding images from this artist, I would like to submit this intriguing example from her ‘Inner Light’ series. The title (mislabeled on the artist’s own website) is a bit mysterious and I would appreciate someone versed in Mexican culture to tell me what La Monina means. -Ron
There is a wonderful introduction by Verónica Volkow in the book Inner Light (2002) which eloquently expresses the artist’s attitude about the relevance of nudes and flowers and their connection. A slightly abridged transcription can has been posted here. -Ron
A couple of pieces from Russian illustrator Sveta Dorosheva. The first is a double page spread from one of her sketchbooks; the second is a book illustration, though I don’t know which book it’s from. But don’t stop here–you simply must take a look at more of her elaborate art nouveau-esque surrealism. You can see it here, here and especially here. Stunning!
When I was learning to distinguish between the styles of various naturist photographers, a friend of mine was paring down his collection and so I was able to acquire some things that rounded out my own. Included in his inventory were three prints. I knew they were not from any artist I was familiar with, but they were lovely images. One in particular portrays a rather idyllic and classical scene, as though we had come upon Artemis or Aphrodite in private contemplation. The flower further complements this feminine image, and she is frozen in a rather statuesque pose.
My friend did not know the name of the artist but told me where he bought the prints. Fortunately, the seller was still in business and told me they belonged to an artist named Peter Dominic and that they were part of a promotion to expose his customers to this artist’s work. At that point all the artists I knew about had books published so people could get an idea of their work, but this was not the case for Dominic. I wanted to see more and with a little luck and the kind efforts of some go-betweens, I was finally able to reach him and get a clearer idea of the scope of his work.
Dominic is quite personable but also a private man, which makes sense for someone who works with young nude subjects and is not interested in notoriety. He straddles a fine line between public recognition and attracting the wrong kind of attention from vindictive pundits. I always feel the art should speak for itself, and anyone making more than a perfunctory examination of Dominic’s photographs and has at least a modicum of artistic sensibility will recognize how exquisite it really is.
Dominic’s biggest inspiration was David Hamilton and that is evident in some of his work, but patent comparisons with well-known artists don’t paint much of a picture. I appreciate the long contribution of Hamilton and one of his books served as my introduction to the beauty of young girls, but when I increased my palette of artists and became familiar with a wider range of subjects and styles, I realized his work did not actually appeal to me. On the other hand, I can say without exaggeration that Dominic’s work is among my favorites, as he brings out the most in his subjects. It is tempting to glance at these images and write them off as just so much eye candy, but certain artists including Dominic have an empowering quality that is cathartic to the girls and young women who may be hypersensitive about their body image.
This revelation helped me recognize that true artists tend to come in two types. For example, Hamilton wants to see what he wants to see, and so his models are in almost complete service to him. This fact gives the viewer a feeling of being a voyeur accentuated by an intimate domestic or “behind the scenes” setting. Conversely, Dominic pays attention to the character of each of his models and that comes across as a kind of reverence. The girls are not hidden away in private settings but largely out in the open, grandly posed in the most beautiful natural backgrounds available to the artist. Both artists also may make use of soft focus, but Dominic is not using it for mere dreamy effect, but to bring out the natural radiance in the subject.
This particular model could be the poster child for this site, striking a balance between youthful beauty and innocent pursuits. With a talented artist it is easy to forget the effort needed to create the desired effect. All during this shoot Dominic was hoping the bubbles would cooperate and not make a mess of the scene.
The glare in this bust brings out the girl’s golden hair and I personally like how the neat braid adds a contrasting geometric sharpness.
Dominic is skilled in a large range of techniques, and yet he never fails to flatter his models. In some photos the desire might be to bring out a girl’s soft sensuality but in this case, a crisp sweetness better suits this charming girl and her little companion. Animals are a challenge to work with and so I further commend Dominic for this skilled execution.
This shot emphasizes vitality. Notice how the model does not have a tan line; one might say she is comfortable in her skin and she sports an impish smile that communicates enjoyment. The bracelet and nails add a vivid contrast that pops out at the viewer, giving the image even more energy.
[It is with great pleasure that Pigtails in Paint reinstates this image. Because we got a complaint from the Swedish authorities under whose jurisdiction our former host belonged, we had to remove it to remain operating. As you can now see, it was much ado about nothing; the worst that could said is that the model was acting sassy.]
Although this post has focused on the younger girls, readers should know that Dominic shoots older models just as skillfully. An exhibition of some of his work can be seen at the ARGENTIC Gallery website.
At first, one is taken in by the charm and vivid composition of the girls in Angela Strassheim’s work, but after longer examination one gets a kind of eerie feeling that there is a dark side to this perfectly groomed facade like one gets from watching The Stepford Wives.
Angela Strassheim was born in 1969 in Bloomfield, Iowa to a born-again Christian family where her mother frequently reminded her that her soul was damned. Whether consciously or not, her strategy seemed to be to watch things from a safe distance, never putting her fate in the hands of others. Photography lends itself well to this position of detached observation and she avidly pursued this craft to technical perfection. First, she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Media Arts in 1995 at the College of Art and Design in Minneapolis; then she became certified in various forensics applications and pursued her Master’s Degree in Photography at Yale University in 2002. With this kind of drive it is not surprising that she quickly won numerous awards, has many exhibits on display and will probably continue to do so. She divides her time between New York City and Minneapolis where she maintains studios. Her latest project has her in Israel to do research on women in the Bible.
All the images give the initial impression of candid intimacy, but everything is too polished, with not one hair out of place. Strassheim’s staging is careful and on indoor scenes she pays particular attention to solid color which appear in bold swatches.
Two of her series prominently feature little girls: Left Behind and Pause. Left Behind is also the title of a book published in 2007 by Grinnell College. All the images are untitled but have unofficial descriptions which I will use here for easy reference. The first five images are from Left Behind. The implication of this title is that these are the souls still left on Earth. The first is the one used on the cover of her book and evokes the feeling of being left at home while the world goes on outside.
“Yellow Tub” struck me because this older toddler is impossibly clean and neat and posed so perfectly on the chair.
“Horses” gives us a sense of a girl’s inner world as she displays her collection of figurines. At first, this scene seems somewhat spontaneous except for the need to place the horses, but then one notices the children on both edges of the frame, as though they’re trying to stay out of the shot.
“First Haircut” is loaded with meaning. It first seems a candid event in the girl’s life, but there is the suggestion of violation and loss as she displays her severed lock. Given the kind of Christian household to which the girl belongs, it would have been inappropriate for her to have undue pride in her natural beauty.
Here is a beautiful girl in a beautiful shot with the requisite roses, which can have a kind of double meaning here. In pagan symbolism the rose represents femininity and the female connection with nature. However, in a strict Christian household, the rose would have associations with the Virgin Mary and white roses particularly denote the virtue of the girl’s virginity.
The next three images come from Strassheim’s series Pause. The first is an impressive accomplishment as shooting a white scene can cause a number of technical difficulties. The artist makes good use of mirrors in some of the images in this series.
“Amy Reading a Book” gives a clue that this series makes more use of outdoor scenes while Left Behind was largely interiors.
“Hoola Hoop” shows how Strassheim began to be more at ease with expressing the natural beauty of her subjects. The hair out of place gives this girl a relaxed charm.
There are many more interesting images from these series and I recommend you view them on Strassheim’s official website. Another series called Family Study has some of the same feel of the other two, but as it features mostly boys, none of its images are shown here. Her early work included a project called Evidence in which she shot cleaned up scenes where homicides of domestic violence took place. It feels as though the ghosts of the victims still haunt the images. She began this project before all the others but needed to wait to collect enough images for her presentation. She also has a series called Hearts which is literally pictures of removed hearts, the metaphorical seat of the soul. These two series are a sign of Strassheim’s artistic development, as when Sally Mann was collecting her material for What Remains.
In the course of updating this post, I learned that Steve Hanks died on April 21, 2015 at the age of 66. It is particularly sad because not only did he die at a relatively young age, but his chemotherapy tired him out to the point that he could not spend much time doing the painting he loved in his final days.
I was introduced to Steve Hanks’ work when one of his pieces was used in an advertisement for a new book. I don’t know why that particular image was chosen, but even a small rendering was compelling enough for me to purchase the book and see more of his work. It was called Moving On: The Art of Steve Hanks and was published by The Greenwich Workshop, Inc. in 2007. When I received the volume it did not disappoint, and I noticed the artist had a special affinity for children, families and women. It is one of only a few that I now display proudly in my home. Recognizing the talent and appreciating the beauty of Steve Hanks’ work is one thing, but after a little investigating, there was something even more remarkable about this artist apart from some interesting anecdotes about individual pieces. Whenever people look at the books or prints for the first time, they are surprised to find that they are paintings, but even more remarkable for those with a knowledge of art is that they are actually watercolors—a medium not usually associated with this level of realism.
Since Hanks’ family moved around a lot in his youth, his way of coping was to focus on the few precious constants in his life: his love of the ocean, surfing and his art. In high school, he lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and though never an avid student, his love of painting motivated him to get a degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts, which he completed in the 1960s. He decided to establish a studio in New Mexico, where he worked mostly in pencil and oil painting. The discovery that he was sensitive to the compounds in oils forced him to abandon them and a switch to watercolors seemed a logical alternative. But he still loved the kind of realism that could be achieved in pencil and, as there was no precedent for accomplishing this in watercolors, he had to experiment with various techniques until he got the desired result. Starting in 1973 he began to get recognition for the his technical skill and the depth of feeling expressed in his work and has been receiving major accolades ever since.
There are many amazing images and stories in the book, but the one that originally caught my eye remains my favorite to this day. Notice how the translucent dress shows off the play of sunlight, the way the hair lies to create the impression of dampness, the majestic setting—both foreground and background—and the way the girl looks down in poignant self-reflection. The subject’s attitude is indicative of much of Hanks’ work, as it gives the viewer a sense of the girl’s inner world. This contributes a psychological depth to the work that makes it more than a mere showcase of technical virtuosity.
His figures are rendered with a loving touch that is deeply sentimental and gives the pieces an intangible healing quality; numerous people have commented about how Hanks’ work has affected them. He insists that he is merely expressing his sincere feelings in his work, and especially with his own three children: Mandy, Travis and Kali. He is just as meticulous in planning his backgrounds, which feature his beloved West Coast beaches, the Southwest and settings in the Savannah, New Orleans and Charleston areas.
He has also enjoyed some commercial success, and some of his images have been made more accessible in the form of calendars. I had these two images framed, and they are now openly displayed in my home. What always strikes me is how he achieves the delicate translucency of the loose strands of hair, which adds a down-to-earth quality to the subjects.
When researching this piece, I could find almost nothing online. I finally learned that it was only reproduced for the calendar and was never available as a print.
Here is one of many in an ocean setting, and again the girl seems to be engaged in quiet contemplation.
To Hanks’ mind, children are like angels and he painted quite a few of them. They have a dreamlike quality but also evoke comforting thoughts of a happy afterlife that have moved parents to tears, particularly those who have suffered tragedy.
This image first caught my attention because one of the girls resembles the daughter of a close friend of mine. As I studied the image further, I became more and more bemused by the charming juxtaposition: the girls seem to be in their Sunday best yet are quite sensible in their wearing of boots.
Quite a few images make use of dangling legs; they convey a relaxed quality and a sense of intimacy between the subjects. Hanks regards many of these pieces as homages to childhood and an optimism about their future. He hopes these touching scenes will inspire people to consider the kind of world we are leaving them.
When Moving On was being produced, Steve Hanks was going through a divorce. Reexamining his work, the focus on women and children gave him the feeling of being cut out of family life. At that point, he began a series of works that involved fathers, and this one is my favorite. I couldn’t resist the warm charm of the relationship and the overt respect for producing art portrayed here. There are many images of children practicing musical instruments, and Hanks has actually been credited with inspiring the continued pursuits of some.
Babies and young children are reputedly difficult to work with and those artists who do so must find special fulfillment in their work. Hanks was working on a piece involving a number of babies sitting in a row. It must have taken considerable patience to get each one attractively rendered as convincing parts of an overall composition. After this experience, he decided to do an almost identical piece, this time showing them upset and in disarray, a scene that must have been etched in his memory by that point. This pair of works (All In A Row and All Gone Awry , 1993) became very popular, and so the artist gathered those same children when they were six years old to paint this piece. He also had the notion of bringing them together again in another ten years for another group portrait. This he has done and a layout sketch is ready to begin production, but the demands of an active artist has not allowed him the time to complete it. He says there is no hurry as he is doing this for his personal enjoyment and not the public anyway. [It is not known if he ever completed this piece.]
At Pigtails in Paint our focus is on little girls, so it is sometimes necessary to inform readers of the full scope of an artist’s work. In Hanks’ case, he has painted a number of little boys, including his own son, family groups and his popular nudes of women. He is especially skilled at capturing women undergoing transitions in their life, and these works have served as a meditation on personal validation and healing for them.
Sheet music in its heyday was often published with beautiful covers. This one is for a classic Edwardian pop song called I’ve Got a Pain in My Sawdust, which, I gotta admit, is more than a little creepy, especially when sung by the voice of Betty Boop–-it’s about a doll that requires urgent medical attention. Weird, huh? But anyway, if you’re a regular follower of this blog, you should recognize this one, even though the colors are muted here.
I like these ads because we don’t often get to see this portrayal of little girls on this site. It is so easy to put them on a pedestal and forget they play on the ground like the rest of us. I also want to commend the advertising companies for their clever manipulation here.
The expectation is for boys of any age to be getting dirty playing sports. Using the girls gives the company two advantages: 1) They can seem wonderfully egalitarian while 2) exploiting the extra charm that only little girls have. If little boys got dirty like this, a mother might be inclined to just let them stay that way and that doesn’t move product. The use of girls plays on the stereotype that even though it is OK for girls to get dirty in this day and age, it is also important to clean them up and turn them back into little princesses again. This subtle motivation gives the reader that extra push to buy cleaning supplies.