Muse (2009 – Present)

Muse (2009 - Present)


A collaborative body of work with photographer Niki Grangruth, Muse explores non-conforming gender identity, beauty, and the gaze through the reinterpretation of well-known paintings from art history. The photographs—and their corresponding costumes and sets—meticulously reflect a painterly aesthetic and artistic aura akin to the paintings from which they are inspired. The series also documents a process of gender play – a conscious hybridization of hyperfeminine and masculine as a way of exploring the fluid, performative, and sometimes dichotomous elements of identity.

 

Girl with a Pearl Earring [After Vermeer], 2009
Girl with a Pearl Earring (after Vermeer), 2009
Girl with a Pearl Earring [After Vermeer], 2009
Birth of Venus [after Botticelli], 2009
Birth of Venus (after Botticelli), 2009
Birth of Venus [after Botticelli], 2009
Odalisque [After Ingres], 2009
Odalisque (after Ingres), 2009
Odalisque [After Ingres], 2009
The Valpinçon Bather [After Ingres], 2010
The Valpinçon Bather (after Ingres), 2010
The Valpinçon Bather [After Ingres], 2010
Olympia [After Manet], 2009
Olympia (after Manet], 2009
Olympia [After Manet], 2009
Magie Noire [After Magritte], 2012
Black Magic (after Magritte), 2012
Magie Noire [After Magritte], 2012
Portrait of Madame X [After Singer Sargent], 2013
Portrait of Madame X (after Sargent], 2012
Portrait of Madame X [After Singer Sargent], 2013
Ophelia [After Millais], 2014
Ophelia (after Millais], 2013
Ophelia [After Millais], 2014
A Bar at the Folies-Bergére (after Manet), 2015
A Bar at the Folies-Bergére (after Manet), 2015
A Bar at the Folies-Bergére (after Manet), 2015
Whistler's Mother (after Whistler), 2015
Whistler's Mother (after Whistler), 2015
Whistler's Mother (after Whistler), 2015
Annunciation (after Botticelli), 2015
Annunciation (after Botticelli), 2015
Annunciation (after Botticelli), 2015
Mrs. George Swinton (after Sargent), 2017
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (After Klimt), 2017

 

 


View additional projects in Body of Work ›

 

Recent Posts

Censorship & Discovery

Recently, we submitted two pieces of work for an exhibition that explored the topic of identity. We were excited to read in the prospectus that it requested work that would “examine our notions of self” and investigate “constituent parts of identity,” and asked the question “How much of an individual’s identity is personal and self-constructed, and how much of it depends on something socially created?” These ideas were so appealing because they are the exact notions and questions that compose a significant portion of the conceptual foundation of our work.

Portrait of Madame X [After Singer Sargent], 2013

Portrait of Madame X [After Singer Sargent], 2013

Mrs. George Swinton (after Sargent), 2017

Mrs. George Swinton (after Sargent), 2017

Both photographs above were selected by the curator and were subsequently excluded by university staff. In our correspondence with them, the staff articulated their understanding of how the work addressed the theme, and how it raised questions that deserved attention. However, they stated that their venue wasn’t the right location to further the types of discussions that typically accompany our work. Once we understood that the university was owned and operated by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, we could better understand their concerns and perspective, and we chose to graciously honor their choice.

For valid reasons or not, frankly, it sucks to have work censored. But were we to focus on that, we wouldn’t have been open to the gift that followed. The entire experience drove up within both Niki and I a raft of feelings, thoughts, and emotions that ultimately surfaced a greater commitment to our work and increased connection between us as artists. Below are three key discoveries.

Mission

Like most any artist would be, we were shocked and angry when we initially received the news about our work being censored. But we both recognized that to stay in that space of anger neither served us nor the mission of our work. In fact, we took a step back and recognized that one of the primary reasons we make work as part of the Muse series is to foster respective discourse and exchange of ideas and perspectives. Specifically, we hope our work challenges untruths and misguided prejudices against individuals who do not conform to strict masculine or feminine identities.

Shared Experience

During the formulation of our letter to the university staff addressing the matter, both Niki and I were reminded of the values and morals fostered by our undergraduate experiences at small Lutheran liberal arts colleges. As Niki is an alum of St. Olaf in Minnesota and I am an alum of Bethany College in Kansas, we recognized that our religious educations led us to understand that we are to be open-minded; that we as humans are not to judge others; that we are to treat all individuals with respect, dignity, and compassion; that we are to love others regardless of the intricacies that make up their identity; and that we have a responsibility to continue our individual growth by seeking out and engaging in diverse experiences with a variety of people from different backgrounds.

Quality & Context

While aesthetics and technical adeptness are an inherent part of the work in the Muse series, our desire isn’t to make art that is purely decorative or “pretty.” Good works of art challenge us; they question social constructs, and they ask viewers to look at things from different points of view. As artists, every choice of costume, set, and source painting upon which the photograph is based is imbued with meaning and characterized by deliberate intention. We acknowledge that this context is not always discernible by all viewers, which may cause the work to seem confrontational or offensive. This has never been our intended outcome. Through blog posts, in-person conversations, artist talks, etc., we make concerted efforts to help people see the intention and considerations that go into each piece.

Annunciation (after Botticelli), 2015

Annunciation (after Botticelli), 2015

In hindsight, perhaps for this exhibition we should have submitted the Annunciation (After Botticelli), a piece that more overtly bridges the topics of religion, identity, and gender. But then again, our journey just might not have been as fortuitous.

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