M: Now, there are like two other layers to the visual presentation of images of women explicitly – um, intentionally, I suppose, is a better way to put it – as sexualized. One is the image or the object itself as an expression of sensuality, of desire, and of sexuality directly. Which is a little bit different than the education thing or even from the use of an illustrative object, you know what I’m saying? How does that relate to these things? Is that part of what you see as your goal set for these paintings?
[ Man , is that poorly put. What I meant was, “Ellen, are these intended as erotic stimulants?” and also at the same time, “Do these paintings carry any sexualized and stimulating expression of you, as the artist?”]
EF: I didn’t quite follow you.
M: Man, how can I put this. Like theoretically I can imagine a painting that doesn’t have any, like, visually clear illustrative subject matter and [yet] being obviously sexual in nature, because, maybe the color scheme or like the energy of the linework or…
EF: Georgia O’Keefe!
M: … For example. That’s a really good example. I mean, there’s still an illustrative quality there, but yes, exactly. Is that something that you were thinking of as you were working on these? Were you thinking to sort of move beyond the illustrative purpose, the didactic purpose, to inject your sensual view of these women into the canvases – uh – ‘Masonites’ I guess.
EF: Uhhhh. [ doubtfully ] You mean through color?
M: Well, we talked about the energy of this painting,”right from the tube,” for example… I’m just trying to draw you out. You can say “I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.”
EF: I’m not quite sure. I think that I don’t really have enough control over the medium to really direct that. I think that some of those effects have come through just because of the subject matter and how I interact with the models and who I am and how I work but I … I definitely still …I mean I didn’t mean to start putting it on the paintings. I didn’t like set out to that, for instance…
It’s just that as my confidence was building I was able to interact with the painting in that way. So I guess that’s the direction I was naturally going in, but I’m not setting out to that.
M: Maybe another place where I can talk about that is like in the … directness and confidence, and like, I dunno, your really striking line quality, which is such an important part of your ink work. Just in the way that you apply the ink and use it to form the objects illustratively there’s something in that I recognize, and go “Oh, that’s Ellen Forney.”
And there’s a kind of a – there’s a quality in the way that you apply the ink which is about you as an artist that expresses your sensuality and your sexuality – maybe if it’s something that doesn’t have sexual content, then maybe that’s not there all the time. But, I mean, it’s something that I associate with your work. I would tend to see that if it was a lawnmower, you know?
EF: Well – I wouldn’t accept the sexuality and sensuality but there’s definitely a sensuality to um, organic brushwork, there just is.
M: And so comparing these two – the brushwork of the smaller paintings that you did quickly for the show after you had done the paintings in a form that you had mastered…
EF: They were quicker than these [ large paintings ], anyway.
M: Uh. Of the two, which one do you think comes closer to accomplishing the overall goal of communicating something that’s sexual and sensual? These smaller illustrative pieces or the larger painting?
EF: These – the paintings – have a lot more of the qualities, the imposing qualities, that we had talked about before. The size. The bright colors. How they stick out from the wall. How, maybe they’re not lifesize, but they’re large. This one [ K-O ], I think actually, because her pose is more compact, it might be about life size.
So these [ drawings ] are a lot more – they’re easier to – well, I guess the answer would be the paintings then.
M: The paintings.
EF: Because part of what I talk about is the power of the gaze, and um, in most pinups, the power is in the gazer, the viewer. The subject, the model, is very coy or, “oops! I’m sexy” or “oops! My skirt flew up!” You know, with rare exceptions. There’re some Bettie Page, maybe, um, pinups, that where she’s definitely the one in control; but I don’t mean it in a dominatrix kind of way.
M: Never mind the whip and the rope.
EF: Yeah! I mean, there’s that but that’s a different kind of power. I mean a more centered power I guess.
M: I think I know what you mean, I mean the reason we grew up knowing – or grew into our hipsterhood or whatever – knowing about the Page stuff is there’s a distinct quality that adheres to her as a model that’s different from other photographs that were done at the same time, whether the more commercially available ones or – actually, I don’t really know! I assume there’s other fetish photography from the time, I just haven’t ever seen any to really compare it!
But there’s sort of this sense in her photographs that people respond to.
EF: Sure, and think of like, the Betty Grable, you know or, the Marylin Monroe…
[Forney mimics the poses of well-known images of each woman as she speaks]
M: You’re doing the poses again! (chuckles)
EF: Yeah, well!
M: But that’s fine!
EF: So what I’m playing with is having the model not be that coy object, but actually taking the responsibility herself, being very self-possessed and gazing out at the viewer, and in that way being the one in charge. So it kind of fluctuates, you know, like I say in the artist’s statement, like, yeah, you’re looking at this object, and that way you’re the one in control, but…
You know somebody came in and looked at my studio, at the paintings I was working on, and he said that he liked this one of Ariel the best because the other ones scared him. Because the other ones he found intimidating.
M: There is a quality in them, like in this one, almost like that ‘oops!’ quality, except not really… And in these ones, they’re all, like, extremely direct. And this is interesting, actually.
All three of these women have a closed-mouth smile, and these two women, the smile is, you know, cockeyed.
EF: Well, I do a lot of crooked smiles. Crooked smiles and uh, one eyebrow up. It’s um…
M: There’s the eyebrow over there…
EF: It’s cocky. I guess that’s an aspect I’m going for – is kind of cocky.
EF: Which – I mean… I guess I hadn’t applied that word to it before but that really what I’m going for.
M: [slightly ironic tone] Maybe there’s a gender-neutral word that we could use.
M: I mean it doesn’t come to mind immediately, but…
EF: No, I think that that’s an aspect that I’m pushing in here. Feminine sexuality and cockiness aren’t mutually exclusive.
M: There’s a quote if I ever heard one.
EF: [ laughs ]
M: [laughs] Lemme check th’ tape… Yeah, I got it. That’s great.
Well, I’ll certainly – I’ll use that. That sorta sums up in a lot of ways, sorta, some of the stuff that we were sorta groping toward in the conversation.
I think I need to look at the art on the other side too, and look at it and think about it. Obviously I don’t have Kris here to talk about it with but um…
EF: Unfortunately. Well, she has an artist’s statement over here, and…
[The rest of the conversation is about deadlines and the like.]