Art > arts features
Arts The green lady is back
Laura Molina finds a heroine in the kitsch of calendar paintings and ’60s sci-fi
Los Angeles artist Laura Molina uses outer space, the backdrop for a new series of paintings starring her “Green Lady” alter ego, as a metaphor for imperialism. “There are whole worlds to exploit out there,” she says. Molina is best known for her infamous Naked Dave series, which chronicles a destructive relationship with a well-known comic-book illustrator (see nakeddave.com for the backstory), but she says she is beginning to connect that personal tragedy to political issues that affect her culture. “Amor Alien,” for instance, twists the clichés of “Amor Indio,” a famous calendar painting by Jesus Helguera, into an entertaining commentary on racism and sexism.
Molina’s work is on view at Gallista Gallery this month as part of Project M.A.S.A., the MeChicano Alliance of Space Artists, a creation of local artist Luis Valderas, who wants to highlight the role that pre-Columbian Mexican cosmology plays in contemporary Chicano culture.
|Laura Molina’s alter ego, “The Green Lady,” is boldly going where no Chicana painter has gone before. Her work is on view at Gallista Gallery through October 29.|
When did you start incorporating outer-space themes in your work?
Specifically for “Amor Alien,” which is a parody of a famous Mexican calendar painting.
Yes! I love that.
It’s my favorite [Jesus] Helguera painting, called “Amor Indio,” and I have a series of paintings called Naked Dave, a series of paintings of an ex-boyfriend. As you can tell from the title, most of them involve limited clothing and generally making statements about painting him as a response to the things he paints he paints basically titties and asses for a living he’s one of those guys, a so-called pin-up artist who is mostly known as a illustrator.
Is he in the Robert Crumb mold?
No, I guess he’s a second-rate Olivia in that he uses pen and ink, he doesn’t paint most of his pieces and actually the man hasn’t produced a major piece in quite some time.
I’m looking at your website and I see you’ve been on Win Ben Stein’s Money.
Yes, I won!
I wish I had that money now it was only five grand.
I guess it goes pretty quickly. I imagined it would be a lot more.
Well, most game shows you do win a lot more money, but not that one. That’s why it’s the easiest one to get on. Out here in California it’s time to take the Jeopardy test again at Columbia studios once a year they let you come back and take the test. It’s a very strange test, though.
What is it like?
It’s got a lot of history questions, and the thing that hamstrings me is the pop-culture stuff, because I never go to the movies and I don’t watch TV, and I don’t know who any of these people are. I just pretty much stopped watching TV in 1975.
And they’ve moved on.
Yeah, they’ve moved on. If you were to ask me a question about the TV show Friends, I don’t even know who’s on that or what it’s about.
I saw half an episode once, I’m not the one to fill you in on that I’m afraid.
The only one I’ve sat through in all that time is the Chris Isaaks Show.
Coming back to the Naked Dave paintings
He’s my target and my muse. Naked Dave’s kind of a separate thing because it really wasn’t considered Chicano art until I started to bring it together in the painting. The subject makes a lot of people uncomfortable and a lot of my closer friends will tell you that I’m wasting my time and talent painting this idiot. But it’s my time and talent to waste and that’s what inspires me. When I did “Amor Alien” I realized I could put any generic white man’s face there and it would work, it would still have the same message. It works on so many levels; basically the joke is, he’s the alien and that was the best way to portray it: two different planets.
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Could you talk a little bit more about what Naked Dave means to you as a metaphor?
It’s male privilege, patriarchy; women are supposed to suffer in silence and I refuse to do that. This person did me a great wrong and I couldn’t say like, shoot him, or run him over with a car
Although it’s been done
Yeah, it’s been done by some women. Some women inspired to those heights of passion have committed acts of violence. I also was inspired by this man’s actions to acts of violence, but I am an artist and I have self control, so having sat and thought about it for a while I decided to use a more dangerous tool than a gun, and that was a paintbrush.
And now he’s immortalized
Now he’s immortalized and it’s kind of funny, because “Amor Alien” the actual painting which couldn’t be in the show because it was in a museum in Los Angeles thousands of people walk by it in the Millard Sheets gallery and don’t even know anything about the story, but recognize the man from his portrait.
How do people respond to your parody of “Amor Indio”?
Most of them think it’s very funny. What I’ve done is I’ve taken Helguera romanticizing the Indians and I’ve used it in my own context. As I’ve said, the joke is that [the man is] the alien, he’s on her home planet, on her native soil, and it just has a lot of symbolism on many levels. She doesn’t have any ears, she has antennae because she’s way more sensitive and he’s using some typical male shielding there. He’s got the boots and the helmet on.
He’s in a bubble
a bubble, because he refuses to breathe the air or touch the soil of her environment.
He’s even wearing gloves when he’s touching her.
He’s very dispassionate about examining this specimen. We don’t know why he’s there, but we have a guess. It’s one of those Columbus discovers America things.
|"Amor Alien" by Laura Molina|
Do you feel like you’re undermining or addressing the sexuality of the original?
The thing that I did that I don’t think is apparent in the Helguera, is that I have slightly eroticized the astronaut’s figure, because eroticizing a male in art generally doesn’t work. Normally when you do it comes off as homoerotic.
Which parts can you generally eroticize successfully?
The face, because bringing out the feminine features of a man’s face, making him look handsome, feminizes him. This guy has perfect hair; he had to have Captain Kirk’s hair. That was another way of eroticizing this figure, because I read this book that said that usually the only accessible area where you can eroticize the male figure is in rock ’n’ roll. Whereas female bodies are eroticized for every purpose.
There’s a new book that’s out [Fever: TK] that argues that rock ’n’ roll opened up gender roles for men and women. David Bowie, etc.
There’re a lot of very very talented people who happen to be homosexual, and in rock ’n’ roll they find their home. Even if they’re not, they can play with those androgynous roles. And then there’re women who are taking on masculine roles, going all the way back to Suzi Quatro in the ’70s
And Joan Jett, who I always hate to mention for any reason, but there she is, the butchest of them all. The gender roles in [“Amor Indio”], they’re almost cliché, as they are in a lot of art if you look at women in Pre-Raphaelite paintings, they were painted in the Victorian era, so women are beautiful, silent, submissive.
A big Pre-Raphaelite exhibit just opened here in San Antonio [see “Lush be a lady,” September 13-19, 2005].
Oddly enough, I can think of very few Chicano artists who deal with gender identities or roles. It’s kind of an off topic. The “Green Lady” just represents a lot of things. I have her in that second painting, which I probably will change because I want it to look very frivolous and more like a [Alberto] Vargas pin-up. But it’s great, I have my character and I was thinking about taking the same character and having her emigrate to Earth. She’s my green alter ego, because as I say on my website, I’m the “other” that you fear.
But she’s a very alluring green color.
That’s where the pop-culture stuff comes in, because if you’ve ever watched Star Trek, everyone knows that green ladies are irresistible. Everyone remembers that Yvonne Craig was the green dancing lady in the original Star Trek and I just watched one of those many, many recent spin-off Star Trek shows and they had a whole shipful of green ladies with long dark hair and I was like, oh, look, she’s back, she really is iconic. She represents the ultimate exotic, blah, blah, blah, as women of color as sexualized objects still.
Do you feel like anything has changed between then and now?
A bit. You have people who don’t trade off their sexuality, serious female prominent figures that don’t trade off of that. You’ll never see Oprah Winfrey in Playboy, even though for a lot of female celebrities, when their career is failing they go take off their clothing in Playboy.
It’s amazing to me the number of celebrities who will do that
that and especially the way they airbrush someone’s head on someone else’s body. If you saw Belinda Carlisle in Playboy you would know just what they can do with Photoshop. My husband stopped subscribing and wrote a letter that said, You’re not showing pictures of women anymore, you’re showing paintings.
You hear that complaint from men who are in their late 30s and early 40s
that they’re not real girls anymore
yeah, and some coffee-table books have come out that pay homage to that old Playboy aesthetic.
In 2003 they changed the format and they started changing everything over to appeal to a younger audience, because they figured their sales to that [older] generation were limited. So they took on this there’s the magazine Maxim, for instance the whole thing is geared toward a 20-something audience. And Playboy decided to dive into that route, too, and that’s when the magazine got really silly.
By Elaine Wolff