Dorothy Netherland: Turning The Tables
By Wim Roefs
In her previous paintings on glass featuring imagery drawn from 1950s and ’60s women’s magazines, Charleston, S.C., artist Dorothy Netherland (b. 1962) was addressing “domesticity and family drama and the expectations we have of motherhood.” The Virginia native created images of domestic bliss to suggest the opposite, inevitably but, she claimed, unintentionally making ironic statements that were more personal observation than social criticism.
In her most recent work, Netherland is taking a similar approach but turning the tables. On herself. While early 2012 paintings such as It Wouldn’t Kill You still explore her own upbringing, in the Femme Fatal and Velveteen series she frets about what she might be doing to her 10-year-old daughter. “Things about ourselves that are internalized but not acknowledged stay with us,” she said in 2009. How does that apply to her daughter?
“While my work has always expressed my anxieties,” Netherland wrote recently, “the earlier work focused on themes of transience and the unreliability of memory, and the idea that our current sense of self is informed by our often inaccurate interpretations of our personal histories.”
“My daughter eventually will come to her own conclusions about whether or not she was provided with a strong enough foundation to negotiate the confusing world around her, a world where increasing emphasis is placed on the surface. What she has learned about herself so far will influence how she responds to the big choices ahead. My past is being imposed on her, just as the strengths, shortcomings and limitations of my own parents profoundly affected my life.”
“I am exploring the constructed nature of self, and wondering where the need for outer perfection originates. I am intrigued by the juxtaposition of the real and the fake. Young women today often give the impression of possessing almost boundless power. I'm fascinated by the idea of Girl Power and how that relates to artifice and sexuality.”
And so her new paintings feature a young girl, for which Netherland uses her daughter’s eyes and mouth. As a femme fatal, the girl is lively, self confident, fashion conscious, even alluring. Young but adult, ’50s-era women pester the girl, fussing over her and combing her hair. The Velveteen paintings suggest the young girl is perhaps not hell on wheels but certainly a handful. She’s observed and possibly frowned upon by older ’50s-era women.
“Are young women really more empowered now?” Netherland wonders. “Is it possible to embrace youth, beauty and sexuality in a healthy, meaningful way that goes beyond the superficial? Is there room for real individuality? Is our obsession with idealized beauty expanding into the realm of the absurd, and are we becoming more and more narcissistic in general? Whose notions of femininity and sexuality will my daughter be using as guidelines for her own constructions?”