MALAGA.- The Centro de Arte Contemporáneo of Málaga
is hosting Miss Vans first show at a museum. For The Wind in My Hair, the title of the exhibition curated by Fernando Francés, the Barcelona-based French artist has selected 39 paintings made in the last three years, some of which are now being shown for the first time. Recently, Miss Van has alternated between outdoor mural interventions in her hometown of Toulouse, a practice she began two decades ago, and canvases painted in the studio, but she has always maintained a highly characteristic style: her paintings depict women whose faces are covered by masks that represent different things, often wild animals. In some cases her characters pose with suggestive sensuality, but in others their gestures are quite innocent and even childish. Miss Van currently lives and works in Barcelona.
Speaking of her working process in the studio, Miss Van (b. Toulouse, 1973) explains, I find inspiration in everything around me and life in general: things I see on the internet, in books or other documents; I print off the images I like and go over them time after time, even though ultimately I dont rely on them to make everything more original. At her first museum exhibition, this French artist based on Barcelona will present a selection of paintings produced over the last three years. The Wind in My Hair comprises works in which we find the characteristic female figures that populate Miss Vans artistic universe, marked by deliberate ambiguity (sensual and sophisticated yet simultaneously wild and innocent). Two decades ago, the artist began painting the walls and facades of her hometown. Today she combines her work on canvas with mural interventions across the globe.
For Fernando Francés, director of the CAC Málaga, Miss Vans women are energetically sensual and feminine, apparently docile but with a wild, defiant gaze. Riddled with ambiguity and confusion, her characters straddle the fence between reality and fantasy. Her art is based on emotion, on sentiment. In fact, Miss Van feels that her personality is the only thing I can contribute to my work; the rest, the technique, is something that can be learned or copied. In this respect, her iconographic universe is littered with beings that are half woman and half animal: female cats that manifest an innate desire bordering on the subconscious, sensuality and eroticism rolled into one. The cat as a symbolic animal also represents the mysterious side of woman, her malice and independence, her feline facet. The choice of an animal with claws, a beast that scratches, is far from trivial and anything but coincidental. There is a desire to represent stereotypical and real aspects of the feminine role. But at the same time the cat is an animal which, though kept as a household pet, has freedom and independence; a cat is autonomous and can never be fully domesticated. The cat represents the untameable domestic animal.
Her women have evolved over time, concealing more of their faces and physiognomies. Almond-shaped eyes, long lashes, feline gazes and tiny mouths [p1] are their most prominent identifying features. Some of her figures are overtly sensual, wearing masks that conceal their faces yet provocatively reveal the rest of their bodies (I Feel Safer Here, 2016); others, however, have faces and torsos covered with a variety of ornamental elements (Sepia, 2015) that heighten the sense of mystery. She uses feathers, hats, masks and sequinsstaples of feminine imageryto emphasise the principal attributes of women. Miss Van takes these elements and reinterprets them with an aesthetic reminiscent of the classic ideal of beauty in the early 20th century, when women changed the way they dressed as a symbol of freedom and began revealing more of their bodies.
In her works, the artist depicts a world close to the land of dreams and desires. The pastel palette she uses creates an atmosphere verging on the oneiric, but the dark mask is an incongruous element that disturbs the peace of Miss Vans idyllic scenes (Mujeres Pájaros[p2] , 2016). Over time, she has gradually covered up the faces of her figures, and in some poses she stresses their sensuality, but in other works their attitudes are quite the contrary, reflecting a more childish and naive behaviour. She strives to emphasise the sophistication of her characters while also underscoring their raw wildness, drawing spectators into a double game when they observe her work in the gallery.
Miss Van accentuates the most typical feminine features and, as a woman, she feels she must preserve the more emotional, authentic side, although she also likes to show several facets of the same figure, giving each a different look and feel. I try to surprise myself in each of my works and start something without knowing how its going to end, she clarifies.
Vanessa Alice Bensimon, known to the world as Miss Van (b. Toulouse, France, 1973), currently lives and works in Barcelona, although her art interventions have taken her to cities across the globe. Her most important solo shows of recent years include Glamorous Darkness at StolenSpace[p3] , London (2014); Room For Cream at Soze Gallery, Los Angeles (2013); Wild At Heart at Dorothy Circus Gallery, Rome (2012); Wild At Heart at Copro Gallery, Santa Monica (2012); Muses at Inoperable, Vienna; Bailarinas at Jonathan LeVine Gallery, New York; Twinkles at Galerie Magda Danysz, Paris; Twinkles at 18 Gallery, Shanghai; Cachetes Colorados at Upper Playground, Mexico City; She-Wolves at Merry Karnowsky Gallery, Los Angeles (2010); Still a Little Magic at Upper Playground, San Francisco; and Canto Negro y Brujerías [p4] at Merry Karnowsky Gallery, Berlin (2008). In recent years, Miss Van has participated in a number of group exhibitions, most notably Winter Group Show at Vertical Gallery, Chicago; XX: A Moment in Time at Saatchi Gallery, London (2016); Cultivate at Soze Gallery, Los Angeles; Coney Art Walls on Coney Island, New York; Freedom in Berlin (2015); Egrégore at Yves Laroche Gallery, Montreal; Le M.U.R in Paris (2014); and Love & Hate at StolenSpace, London.