Kelly Reemtsen’s artwork brings into form the modern day woman, complete with high heels and a chainsaw. With a keen eye kept on contemporary women’s issues, her paintings portray women that exhibit a confident strength while weilding different heavy-duty tools like axes and wrenches. The artist’s use of thick brushstrokes and bright colours brings a boldness to her subjects that adds to an already definitive conviction that can be felt in her work. Understanding the struggles that often come with being a woman in today’s society, her artwork, with titles like Fuck the System, pays homage to the strong females that continue to work hard and persevere in a male dominated world. Join us in conversation as Reemtsen discusses her background in creating art, the diverse objects included in her work, and her concerns for women’s issues today.
AMM: When did you begin creating art? What subject was your first love to paint?
KR: Ever since I was a kid, I was always making things, doing things. I think I was a pretty quiet little kid and I remember I spent a lot of time doing all sorts of little projects and, inevitably, I would put on different outfits and become different characters. I don’t know exactly why I did it – just because it was fun and I would look at myself in the mirror and have a full conversation. I always had projects and, even though I studied design, I took a lot of painting classes and still was making things the whole time. I don’t tie this into what I do now but I still do the same thing. I will put on an entire outfit and think, ‘Well this would make a really cool painting,’ or buy a dress and put different accessories with it, see how it looks on a person, before I would bring it into my painting.
AMM: You have such a strong aesthetic and subject matter. How did you start creating work that included the “modern day women” that are the subjects of your current body of work?
KR: I want something to show the plight of modern day women. The figure and dress represents the female and tools represent hard work and ingenuity. In many ways we have come a long ways since the bra burning days of the 60’s and in some ways nothing has changed. Perception is everything. A woman can look good and be hard working. They are not mutually exclusive. How do we change the dialogue and why in 2017 is it still a conversation.
I also think we are now in a backward slide. This current administration has been nothing but trouble for independent woman.
AMM: The women in your paintings wear high-heels and fancy dresses, but are always holding tools that appear aggressive, like a chainsaw or an axe. Can you discuss these contrasting elements of traditionally girly attire and heavy duty—and somewhat unsafe—objects?
KR: I feel it is empowerment. I’m always surprised when viewers find it aggressive or even harmful. I do like the fact that, at first glance, it is very spring-like and optimistic. Then, the more you look at it, it does seem a bit sinister because of the chainsaw or a very powerful tool. And then, reading the title (i.e. “I love you to pieces” with figure holding a chainsaw) the viewer may feel a little uneasy. For me the tools represent hard work and a chainsaw is a very effective and yes aggressive tool, but in the end it get the job done.
AMM: Your subjects display a very 50’s style look that, combined with the domestic objects, remind me of a version of The Stepford Wives, but with an edge. Is your representation of these women a twist on this domesticated woman, or an almost anti-house-wife?
KR: This is absolutely NOT anti-house wife. If anything it is homage. A lot of ladies have worked really hard to get us to where we are today. Most of them wives and mothers. I have a really great photo of my mom vacuuming in a bikini. She looked great. The housework was getting done and she was ready for some summer fun. As for the 50’s style, it is not about vintage style. I like the work to look very female and the Aline dress with a cinched waist works well for me.
AMM: You have a series of sculptures titled “Fuck the System” that display a larger-than-life lipstick being smashed into the ground. Can you tell us about this series and the frustration that is embodied in the destruction of this beauty product?
KR: Being a woman in this mans world is can be very frustrating. I think the system is rigged. In many ways women are thought of as a lesser person than a man. From the woman’s place in the home to 30% less pay for equal jobs. It’s 2017. Why is this still a subject on many conversations with very little done about it? So, the work is a statement of just because I may wear lipstick I am still an equal. Said whilst stamping out lipstick in the way a cigarette is smashed out.
AMM: Your work contains beauty products, fashionable heels, and stylish dresses. Do you find inspiration in fashion magazines or ads? Where do you look if you feel you need some inspiration?
KR: I do look through a lot of magazines and online look books. But the dress and shoes in the work are mostly to portray the female figure. So, I also look towards powerful women and women’s movements. As an example, the women’s March that started in Washing DC and is now global.
AMM: There is a sense of secrecy in your work, as the women’s faces are hidden from the viewer, cut out of the frame. Is this to hide the subject’s identity?
KR: It is not necessarily secrecy. I think having a head makes it a portrait of somebody, especially if you see the face. I want the female viewer to be able to see herself in the painting. I like women to feel like they can be a part of my work. I guess I should not single out women…. Anyone in a dress.
AMM: Do you personally identify with the women in your paintings?
KR: I do for sure. The paintings are an extension on my day-to-day operations. I am tough but cute.
AMM: What is your definition of the modern-day woman?
KR: Confident but knows she is a work in progress. Takes chances and works through difficult situations. Takes credit / responsibility for her actions. Stands up for herself and others.
AMM: What other female artists do you think are doing exciting things in the realm of painting right now?
KR: Jenny Saville, Marilyn Minter, Alice Neel, Kara Walker and Rose Eken.
Find out more about Kelly Reemsten’s work: www.kellyreemtsen.com
Text written and interview conducted by Christina Nafziger for ArtMaze Mag.