Work on Monday: “Pageant; Love, Life, Lingerie” by Karyn Mannix

This week, Work on Monday looks at one of Karyn Mannix’s ongoing series of “paint by numbers” paintings. “Pageant; Love, Life, Lingerie” begins with a simple composition featuring a self portrait of the artist, but takes a surprising turn as Mannix breaks her image down into lines and numbers. Each shape, or field, represents one color in her palette of nine, which is spread out in numbered squares across the bottom of the canvas.

Work on Monday is a weekly look at one piece of art related to the East End, usually by a Hamptons or North Fork artist, living or dead, created in any kind of media. Join the conversation by posting your thoughts in the comments below and email suggestions for a future Work on Monday here.

Pageant; Love, Life, Lingerie
Karyn Mannix (East Hampton)
Mixed media on canvas
60 x 48 inches, 2011

Mannix’s technique of reducing her portrait to something that can be reproduced in steps—something almost mathematical—is a fun and visually arresting idea that immediately grabs the viewer’s attention and commands the room. But, as all good art should, “Pageant; Love, Life, Lingerie” has layers. What is at first just a novel concept, becomes something deeper that invites its viewer to consider the act of painting, artistic process, beauty, desire, and—to borrow Betty Friedan’s words—the “feminine mystique.”

By taking away the secrets of painting and showing this self portrait in a simple-to-follow collection of shapes and colors, Mannix accomplishes several things.

First, she puts an imaginary brush in the hand of every viewer and allows us to enter her shoes, even her mind, as we mentally paint the image and see exactly how it would come together. Few works of art come to mind that so deftly engage the viewer in the artist’s process.

Occupying the process then amplifies the viewer’s understanding of the image, both emotionally and physically. Pulling a brush in our mind’s eye—wet with paint—along the curve of the subject’s breast, the arc of her back and along each fragile bra strap creates an unquestionable link and intimacy between the art, the viewer and the artist.

From here, each individual may experience “Pageant; Love, Life, Lingerie” in his or her own way—whether that be feelings of lust, admiration or empathy.

Taken another way, Mannix could be deconstructing her self portrait into something sadly elementary. As all her unique and mysterious attributes are removed, a darker, more anguished pall settles over the subject. She is reduced to the simple sum of her parts. She is a female boilerplate. She is what others make of her, without color until another decides to paint her to life.

Perhaps this is where the viewer once again traces her form with an imaginary brush. Only now lovingly returning her to flesh, adding light and color to her blank eyes and warmth to her face—as we stand poised, quite possibly, exactly where Mannix wanted us from the beginning.

Karyn Mannix is an artist and operator of Karyn Mannix Contemporary gallery. To learn more, visit her website at karynmannixcontemporary.com.

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