In my recent work, popular culture references have become a predominant theme. Things like the imagery we produce to exchange in text message interactions; this includes the apps we use to communicate with and those we use to alter our photographs on a cell phone, images of television celebrities that we as a culture have come to know for better or worse, and popular advertisements of the past that have made an impact on me personally and on my generation. I am interested in the way we experience this imagery in America. Today we are awash in imagery, and the boundaries between art and consumer media are blurred. Jean Baudrillard said that art is “infected with the hyperreality that aestheticizes everything”, suggesting this deprives it or nullifies meaning. I however embrace this “infection” for the sake of investigation. I’m interested in a maximalist presentation of ideas, the maximum ecstatic consumption of images, and the humor and absurdity that exists in the jumble of imagery we consume. I want to explore the way that visual juxtaposition can create humor, and the way that imagery from our past can be revisited in new formats and with new modifications. In a time when our environment and our economic stability are on the verge of collapse, I want to showcase visual signifiers of our consumer culture and it’s excesses that lead us to this point.
In my recent drawings physical print media such as heavy metal magazine centerfolds from the 1980’s, and the decadent subculture that they represented have become a focus. These images promoted celebrity figures like David Lee Roth which can now operate as a symbol of the over indulgent, destructive fast living, and materialism that was the 1980s. While I see these images of 80s Rock celebrities as icons of a problematic era, I’m also taken by the certain sex appeal that they represent. They operate as both a warning and an invitation showing us the desirability of excess; the song of the siren luring sailors to shipwreck. I want to hang onto that dichotomy. I like to show these appropriated images with distortions and repetition, and often I cover the subjects with extraneous information like popular stickers and images from phone apps. I see these interruptions in the image as akin to the daily distractions of imagery we flip past on a daily basis. They act as a sort of noise in the signal, like pop up ads on a website, or the filters used to disguise reality on social media. I see these augmentations as emblematic of our contemporary relationship with imagery, and as an extra layer of sacharine covering icons of an already over indulgent time.
I primarily use oil based colored pencil to make realistic drawings of these subjects. These drawings are typically small in scale which is akin to the content I’m appropriating. I find that this also becomes a more intimate experience for the viewer as they move in to see the details. I begin each drawing by choosing the photographic reference, and I meticulously render them faithfully onto museum board. This is a labor-intensive process, and through it, I feel I’m giving new longevity to these fleeting images. I also use drawing as a way to get closer to the subject matter. The time invested in the act of drawing lets you become familiarized with every aspect of the image. There is also a surface quality that I’m after for the completed works, and working with colored pencil provides it. This dense build-up of oil-based colored pencil, wax blenders, and chemical thinners in combination have a different character than other mediums. There is a soft feeling to this application of materials that for me has an almost dreamlike quality. I like to think of this softness as being like a haze through which we see a memory.
Miriam Woodwell Carothers (b.1980 NYC) is a Pratt Fine Art Drawing educated artist and designer based in Gowanus, Brooklyn.
Her drawing has been commissioned by many clients notably The Simons Foundation, SpaceX, Amazon, Vice, Harper’s Magazine, Hasbro’s Transformers/Rescue Bots, Prosthetic Records, Grey’s Anatomy and Brazzers.
Miriam’s art and interviews have been featured in the New York Times Style Section, Shondaland, Garage Magazine, ArtNet, Buzzfeed, Refinery29, Paper Magazine and numerous other publications/news websites.