We normally think of the Playboy Bunnies as busty blondes with smiles on their faces. Taylor Marie Prendergast, however, shatters that stereotype in her pen and ink drawings that feature the women in a much different light. The models that she depicts, while still in “sexy” poses, aren’t glowing. Instead we see every brush stroke that’s paired with muddy, dirty-yellow hair and a blank expression on their faces. While Prendergast has handled the media well and demonstrates a variety of techniques, we can’t escape the fact that these women wouldn’t be the “Playboy type.” And, according the artist, that’s the point. From her statement:
I’m challenging the contemporary zeitgeist by incorporating historically loaded images and abstracted figurations. The juxtaposition of the glamorous and the repulsive are necessary tools in order to create this reaction in the audience. At first the piece entices the viewer with aesthetically pleasing elements, and as the viewers settles into the work they’re confronted with disturbing details.
While the ink is still wet, Prendergast loads the drawing with more pigment and allows it to bleed onto the paper. It creates a dripping effect that’s both beautiful but in the context of a figure, a little gruesome. This allows the artist to subvert popular culture, and as she explains, “They [the viewer] are invited to re-consider the cultural state of both themselves and humanity. As the viewer inhales the work, there is a subtle yet significant revolting shock.”
When the renowned photographer Robyn Twomey visited the Former Playboy Bunny Reunion, she shot simple and engrossing headshots of women who had been Playboy Bunnies decades before, hoping the capture the complex and often contradictory nature of their former field. On one hand the women are mesmerizingly assertive, and yet, traces of vulnerability and self-consciousness mark their wrinkled brows.
Often, the women appear empowered by their sexuality, and their expressions border on the confrontational. Abandoning any show of passive feminine gentleness, a woman spangled in hot pink costume jewelry adopts a laissez-faire posture normally associated with masculinity, pursing her lips into a smirk and tossing her shoulder back with calculated attitude. Another makes an orgasmic facial expression, relaxing her lips around her open mouth, boldly pressing her breasts towards the camera.
Yet within these powerful and stunning individuals lies a poignant anxiety over growing older, one that boarders perhaps on self-doubt, expressed through a turn of the eye, a furrowed brow. A few turn away from the camera, staring into to the corner of Twomey’s tight frame with strained smiles or almost bashful eyes, their features and the passage of time made more noticeable by make-up that glistens under the bright lights.
Each woman is deeply sympathetic and beautiful, but the work calls into question the ethics of societal pressures enforced by brands and magazines like Playboy. When budding sexuality is valued above all, and when young women are both objectified and exalted, where does that leave aging women? The work is far from an indictment of its subjects; instead, it captures the complexities of a controversial industry that toes the line between supposed empowerment and potential degradation. What do you think? (via BUST and Feature Shoot)