Miley Cyrus is growing up in a fishbowl, where every awkward moment and undeveloped thought is on display for the world to see, react to and comment on, endlessly. As a country, we construct the cult of Miley sometimes even more than she, her publicist or record label does. Miley Cyrus has become an avatar, just as Hannah Montana was, as customizable as a Scion and as real as an American Girl doll. As we have a hand in creating her personae, her personae is a reflection of us, or our fantasies. Therefore, no matter how much she rebels against the mainstream, she can only help define it. The more she destroys her past image as teenage Miley, the more she canonizes it. The more she rebels, the more rebellion we want, even as it looks a lot like Low Sodium Rebellion in a can. We act shocked though we really arenâ€™t, because we too are playing a role, just as she.
We love celebrities who represent the idyllic American: Beautiful, powerful, strong, intelligent, talented, with the same moral standards as us. We shower them in wealth in order to see how they use it, and so we can have it vicariously. We want these celebrities to act out roles in their real lives, not just in films. They appear on late night interviews promoting their films, on the Red Carpet and charity events as they pose for us. This isnâ€™t enough, so thankfully, we also see them walking their dogs, eating out, drunk at clubs, entering and exiting Hollywood parties. We see them grocery shopping without makeup, with their kids, with other celebrity lovers, in court, hungover, and having sex in grainy cell phone videos. We have so much footage of their lives â€œoff the screenâ€ that they donâ€™t need to exist otherwise.
When we actually come face to face with a celebrity, it is a collision of our lived world and our media world. It is a revelation of mutual existence: that they exist in our space, they can see us as we can them, and so we exist as well. Needing proof for ourself and our friends, that they exist, and that we exist too, a cell phone photo of them is imperative. This must get uploaded to the internet immediately, and now we have returned them to their natural habitat: the media world. Just as they primarily exist in the media world, we only exist in their world as long as we tweet, post, like, share and comment. By uploading a selfie to our facebook feed, we are attempting to insert our lived reality into the media world, used as a mirror to prove our existence, to define our character and how it fits within the pantheon of American myth. It is pedestrian cosplay and hipster role playing.
Its human nature to internalize our faults and dwell on them until they manifest into something larger and looming overhead. The past decade has seen serious changes to our countryâ€™s image: warmongering, weakened, bankrupt, obese, fragile, homeless; as well as a growing rift between the working class and the capitalist class, almost completely obliterating the middle class, which is far smaller than any politician will ever admit. While these perceptions have been there since the 80â€™s and 90â€™s, it took until 9/11 for us to see them. Global media, 24/7 coverage of war and a need to understand why anyone would want to â€œattack our freedomâ€, has led to a breathtaking reflection and reassessment of who we are as a culture, through the Biggest Loser, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Extreme Couponing, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Lost, Breaking Bad, Weeds, etc., etc. We donâ€™t even consciously understand it, but we have seen ourselves as theÂ underdogs, the unabashed scum, those who can break free of their past, those who can overcome and those who will crumble. Ordinary people who set out with good intentions but became greedy and selfish monsters. Yet as we assess ourselves through the entertainmentÂ we consume, we lose a true basis for assessment. It is calculated recycling of American myths, regurgitation of roles and tropes, filtering of current events that are replayed as fiction in order for us to learn how we feel about them. As we gravitate towards the fiction to teach us, and blur the lines of what is real and entertainment, it all starts to become real, in some way.
"untitled (faker bear)," acrylic on panel, 8" x 10", 2009
This Friday, Steve Seeley’s painting show opens at RotofugiÂ (who not too long ago moved to Lincoln Park, so check the website for their new address if you’re unsure). Seeley’s figurative work often features the juxtaposition of human bodies and animal limbs, or heads. Sometimes alien parts make an appearance as well. He integrates old and new surfaces, incorporating the nostalgia of his childhood into a present assemblage. I grew more and more interested in something we didn’t talk about, namely the idea of the hero and how it charts through these visual, narrative landscapes. Seeley’s icons adopt the iconography of saints and superheros with all of the mystical proportions childhood bears with them.Â To re-erect and reexamine the Gods of childhood in effort, perhaps, to examine those ancient power structures. In Seeley’s case, they often become hybrid.
Caroline Picard:Â I’m really interested in the way you combine natural elements with mythical ones: for instance, the way your work often offers a kind of misty (and almost traditional-painterly) background with a vibrant superhero, or animal, alien or hybrid in the foreground. It kind of reminds me of old cartoons; in the Smurfs, for instance, you could tell the background was fixed to one surface, and moving figure(s) interacted on a clear gel over top. How did you come upon this strategy in your own work?Â
"untitled (zone fighter w/ bear and bird)," acrylic on archival print, 14" x 19", 2009
Steve Seeley:Â The backgrounds for me are definitely an homage to animation cels. I’m a child of the 80s and I grew up on cartoons; He-man, Thundercats, Thundarr, and the like, so that sort of nostalgic animation occupies a huge section of my creative mind.Â I started the “delicate matter” body of work in 2004 with the backgrounds being multi-layered and muted, almost ghost like, paintings, and at some point maybe three years ago, I transitioned to printed matter. I have always integrated things I collect into my work, I guess in a way bowing to my inner nerd. Thus the action figure-y, comic book-y and taxidermy look and feel. I also happen to collect antique chromolithographs. Mainly landscapes. So it was only natural for me to eventually Â incorporate/appropriate these into the work. The process involves buying a lithograph, scanning it in, messing around with it, and printing it out to paint on. By printing them out (opposed to painting directly on the print) I can control overall scale, color, direction and halftone size. And after all the other elements are painted, I get that stark dichotomy with the digital print and the paint, given that animated feel I grew up on.
CP:Â Your use of the bear, the deer, and the wolf feels very iconic, somehow, especially in those places where give your figures gold-plate halos. Can you talk about how your engage the animal world? Is the ram-figure any different from superman’s figure?Â
SS:Â Again, a great deal of my work ideas come from a nostalgia. The animals are a nod to growing up in the sticks of Wisconsin. I use animals that I used to see everyday (the deer and specific birds) as well as the animals my brothers and I feared when we played in the woods (the bear and wolves). I grew up in the super small town of Ringle which happened to be home to one of the largest wild dog packs in the state of Wisconsin. So I incorporate any number of dogs that I saw or that may have survived to be part of the wild pack (sorry chihuahua and pugs, I love ya but I you wouldn’t have made it).
As for the difference between man and animal, there isn’t a huge difference for me. In the “delicate matter” series, the story so far is that man has left earth for outer space because he becomes enamored with something he can’t comprehend, something that is entirely different from what he knows. He leaves earth on bad terms with the animals and while he is gone animals become what they were destined to be, a transformation per se, into heavy metal loving, super power using, pop culture loving creatures. When man gets to space he finds it to be less than he had hoped, and he tries to come back but the animals refuse. So man is stuck in space while animals take he’s place back on earth, essentially filling his old shoes, and becoming the new “man.”
There were a few years when I only painted animals (except in the “segue” paintings) but currently man has started to reappear. But only under the guise of a superhero since generally that means your true identity is hidden. Oh yeah and celebrities have always remained on earth, which is why the animals often chill with Miley Cyrus and let Sasha Grey ride around on their backs.
"untitled (saint bear with birds)," acrylic on and gold leaf on paper, 14" x 18", 2010
CP:Â At the same time, your figures are basically anatomically correct, and feature studied detail. Then of course there are places and points where you interrupt our expectations, creating a hole inside a bear’s chest for instance. Or giving a human torso a wolf head: how do these interruptions come about?
SS:Â The holes (along with the halos) are meant to lightly symbolize a religion, rather literally. The holes become an extreme stigmata of sorts. I am not necessarily a religious person but I am fascinated by what religion does to societies. It causes rifts and causes people to take sides, which can result in conflict… which is something for years I didn’t have in my paintings. Everything and everyone peacefully coexisted. It was thru adding the religious aspect that I was able to split the world I had created.
The head swapping was a way for me to even more-so humanize the animals. Initially all the human body, animal headed figures in my paintings were referred to as “saints”, figures that were idolized by the other animals and which usually also adorned halos. But once Saint Sasha Grey and Saint Cringer (from He-man) got introduced, I began to play with the animal headed figures as not only religious icons but also celebrity icons. For my upcoming show at Rotofugi there are 25 animal/alien/monster headed human figures all imagined as boxers or wrestlers.Â My intention is to make them a whole new breed of celebrity within the world they exist, at the same time causing additional rifts. Sport is such an easy way for people (or animals in this case) to turn on one another and choose sides.
see more of Seeley’s work by going here.
"untitled (batman with dog)" acrylic and pencil on paper, 7" x 9", 2010