an artist you should know: Marion Peck

As promised, here's another installment of Artists You Should Know to make up for my lack of talking about people other then myself.

Today we're
talking about
Marion Peck, a California-based painter whose work reminds me of a slightly unholy cross between Flemish Renaissance painting and seventies kitsch, complete with sad clown portraits (Polka Dot Clown, this one is called).

Her work's gentle pastels and the feminine detailing, as well as their "cute" figures with the large eyes, cartoonish proportions and clear skin belie the darker, more uncomfortable subject matter. There's also a weird balance in the paintings, I think. It's hard to tell if there's a lot going on--in terms of both symbolism and actual objects--or if they are empty and waiting for the viewer to project their own ideas into them. That idea, I think, is most evident in Landscape with Submerged Deer, where a deer reminiscent of kitschy figurines floats beneath a murky green lake surrounded by slightly disproportionately small mountains. It's like a snapshot from a dream. It seems like it must have a meaning, but does it? I know for me, it brings to mind the time I went swimming with some friends in High Falls, amid the rocks and waterfalls. On getting out to go home, we noticed a weird smell, and realized we had been swimming with a dead deer that was lurking in the water behind the rock where we had placed our clothing. A set of hooves floating in the green water.

It was a nice day anyway.

Anyway, Peck's work also balances the old with the modern. Her painting is undeniably modern, with the Kewpie-like human figures, but it also speaks to a much older tradition. The two paintings of single female sitters, Fuck You and Gretchen, are both dressed in historical costumes; an empire-period shift dress for Fuck You, and a peasant dress and wimple for Gretchen. They could be traditional portraits in the historical sense, but they are both very much modern. Gretchen had the enormous head of a cartoon character, and Fuck You is flipping us off in a very nonchalant way. Finally, The Salmon Spirit has some of the same qualities. The idea of an animal spirit is a very ancient one, as is the metaphor of the journey of the salmon (the banner reads "We begin/We journey/We return"). It calls to mind the indigenous cultures of the Pacific Northwest, but at the same time, the child floating above the salmon has a modern, blunt-bob hairstyle and the face of a baby doll.

Peck's work shares many traits with the so-called "lowbrow" artist movement: big eyes, kitschy elements, lots of pastels, etc. I tend to like these artists, and I like Peck because unlike some of the artists associated with the movement, her work shows a little more variation. I also appreciate the influence of Flemish painting in her earlier work, where landscapes through windows serve as the backdrops for her figures.