From pinups and Elvis drag to motherhood and martyrdom, artists and their muses last week explored fierce currents and subtle edges of feminine beauty at “Art of Female,” the Burgundy Room Gallery’s grand reopening show. Curator and multihyphenate talent Vanessa Burgundy returned to the space with a collection of local favorites and out-of-town surprises, all in keeping with the venue’s punk-rock roots. Luscious figures on the walls were matched by the stylish mix of women (witchy, burlesque, iconic L.A.) who showed up to celebrate one another. Most of the artists are friends of Burgundy and many frequently appear in each other’s work; getting them in one room created a tidy magic, as if you’d fortuitously stumbled into a Natalia Fabia painting (her work was included, and will be part of next month’s lineup as well).
Designer and artist Jessica Louise, who also had clothing on display, was part of a Cramps-themed show at the gallery several years ago. This time, she created two new works in the wake of Germs bassist Lorna Doom’s death last month. “This is inspired by just the L.A. punk scene in the ’80s, and maybe a little bit of Jaime Hernandez from Love & Rockets — that was my favorite comic,” she said, gesturing to Circle One, a mixed-media work on paper depicting a girl with Doom’s radiant aqua eyes and one of Louise’s signature cat hats. “So I was totally going back into my youth, thinking about that when she passed away.”
For Christy Kane, who creates and photographs life-sized dolls, the work was also deeply personal. Between a new self-portrait and a collodion wet-plate print depicting St. Lucy holding a velvet box with a pair of eyes (“She plucked her eyes out of her head and put them in a dish,” she said, deadpan, recounting a version of the saint’s martyrdom), Kane described a smaller work from her new series. “It’s sort of self-exploring that whole world between being a woman, remembering being a little kid, and also not being a mom but feeling very maternal,” she said. “I feel like these are little pieces of me. … I feel that with my art, with my animals and with lots of people in my life.”
Other highlights included masterful pinup photography from Susana Vestige and Shannon Brooke; Pleasant Gehman’s cheerful, cheeky paintings; a powerful assemblage by Chantal Menard that loomed over the party like a benevolent totem; Burgundy channeling Elvis in the desert (shot by Alexandra Lier); and Austin photographer Darla Teagarden’s wildly evocative works. In the same space as gorgeous, perfectly rendered images, a raw, self-referential painting from billboard queen Angelyne provided the contrast: childlike confidence, sincerity, darkness.
Burgundy, glamorous and practically floating in a pale satin robe, said she’s aiming for “more than just a party,” so each monthly show will donate 20 percent to related charities (this one goes to progressive political outfit She Should Run). But she also likes the idea of throwing huge opening events that showcase small businesses and performers alongside artists. “I want to create exposure for the fine arts as well as the chefs, the brands, the dancers that generate inspiration.”
That sounds like a promising expansion of the creative community she’s cultivated over the years. “We are the models, the muses and the makers. It was exciting to be there and know that none of us has given up and we are still creating and will continue to support one another,” she said after the opening.
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Pop-ups and classes will be interspersed, including workshops on writing (one with Gehman is in the pipeline), makeup, wig-making and burlesque — as well as an edition of the literary salon Naked Girls Reading. Next up: "INSTINCT," a loosely animal-themed show featuring Gary Baseman, Adam Wallacavage, Natalia Fabia, Sonya Palencia, Mat Gordon and others, which opens March 21 and will benefit Mercy for Animals. “It won’t be a tie-dyed cow head,” Burgundy assured, “it will be cool stuff.”
That seems like a sure bet.
Art of Female will be on exhibit through March 7 by appointment only, with a closing party on March 8, International Women’s Day. Art available for purchase via the gallery’s Instagram: @burgundyroomgallery