Thursday, November 17, 2011

John Sevigny writes about Teresa J. Parker's "She Hoped for Better"

This review was written for my piece in the Mid America Print Council Show by fellow art warrior John Sevigny....Many thanks, my friend.

Symbols are potentially the most effective tools artists have at their disposal. They communicate with a clarity that goes beyond language, and if we are to judge by the success of symbolism in organized religion, particularly Roman Catholicism, they not only speak, but hold the power to change world views over issues as important as life and death; heaven and hell. 

Teresa J. Parker has become a master symbolist, not in the upper case, Modernist sense of the word, which recalls the French poetry movement of the same name, but in a more primeval way, drawing upon simple, ancient forms to communicate complex truths about the human condition, our desires, and in a larger sense, the permanence of art itself in a world in which nothing seems to last more than 30 seconds anymore. 

"She Hoped for Better," is an example of Parker drawing upon influences as diverse as Francisco Goya, Roman Catholic iconography, the Imagist movement of her hometown of Chicago, and her own gender, to illustrate a wordless fable about one woman who has survived a mastectomy made necessary by breast cancer.

The print is actually three images, the largest showing a woman wearing two misshapen breasts nonetheless turning away from a more perfect pair on a tabletop behind her. Below this larger image are two smaller ones, a foot and a hand that recall milagros, small metal medallions frequently pinned to the dresses of representations of Christ and the Virgin in churches all over the developing world. While this piece, like much of Parker's work, deals directly with breast cancer, a preventable and treatable disease that nonetheless kills countless women every year, it also contains another story: one about the sense of physical imperfection all women, and perhaps all human beings experience. It is probably inevitable that for women, feelings of imperfection, which are of course experienced by everyone, tend to focus on breast size, shape and health. This is not a choice women necessarily make. It comes from powerful messages sent echoing across our society, and through our minds, by the media, which is simultaneously, and almost impossibly obsessed with and repelled by breasts. 

The woman in the illustration has had a double mastectomy. She has been "fitted" with "flawed" breasts, and after longing for a more perfect pair, turns away, and finds freedom, not only from her disease, but from sickness of modern thought, which would categorize breasts as sexual objects to be hidden or used to titillate, but which can never, ever be perfect (even in photographs in men's magazines, breasts are regularly doctored up up to make them smoother, more equally sized, and more fictionally perfect). 

The name of the print is certainly an intentional or unintentional nod to another artist, early-19th Century Spanish printmaker and painter Francisco Goya, considered the father of Modernist social criticism. In los Capricios, a series of prints poking fun at everyone from prostitutes and court judges, to the doctors, lawyers and the yuppies of his Contemporary Madrid, Goya frequently used one-sentence titles to give us just enough information to understand an image. 

The use of the past tense in this particular title tells us what while she had hoped for better, she no longer does. She is moving forward in her life, imperfect perhaps, according to someone's standards, but nonetheless, a survivor, stronger and wiser for the experiences she's had. 

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