Artist Briony Douglas uses vintage objects to create a unique style of 3D art. In her latest collection she pays homage to Basquiat, Chanel, Michael Jordan, Kanye West, Estee Lauder, and Barbie.
Walking by a store window on Ossington Ave., I noticed a large pile of objects in the middle of the floor and like the person just in front of me, I walked in to satisfy my curiosity. The pieces in the pile are strewn about in a graveyard for lost relics from the previous century. They form an ephemeral mountain of culture, or a junk pile of mostly non-recyclable objects, whichever is more relatable.
A close look at the giant mound reveals small, common, everyday items – hard-plastic, vintage Barbie dolls from the glam period, hair rollers that you can imagine in Marilyn Monroe’s hair, a stand-up ashtray that could have been in an advertising agency lobby, an almost 3-foot long, giant cigarette way too big for anyone’s lips, an old-fashion, battery-operated radio that seems indestructible; plastic flowers, a copy of a portrait of a 1960s brown-haired hippy Jesus fit for the mantel, a stuffed Mini and Mickey Mouse couple, a perfect-looking gold vintage clutch hanging by its chain, and a white picket fence, which acts like a belt around the lopsided belly of the heap. Staked in the centre is a protest sign warning against the perils of perfection.
Remnants of lives made more fulfilling by excess, rescued from boxes in basements and attics, collected from vintage stores, ordered online or sourced directly from the manufacturer. The non-recyclable being recycled.
“They’re 3D collage sculptures,” Briony tells me. I’m paying tribute to six different subjects that are important to me, she says. She gestures to the abstract pieces on the walls, ignoring the grunge pile behind her.
Informed by our fleeting ideals, six pieces of our collective cultural identity adorn the walls. The objects are arranged like colourful abstract paintings on wooden panels that blend into the white wall.
They are everyday objects that carry a heavy load. Without the emotional attachment they would all be ordinary items.
Each item in each piece of artwork has a meaning, says Briony, who, like her subjects, is referred to by a single name – Barbie, Jordan or even MJ, Basquiat, Chanel, Kanye, and the name Estee is so unusual it automatically brings to mind Estee Lauder, the cosmetics and skincare giant.
These are highly prized brands, each with a value that goes far beyond money. As individuals, we depend on them to make us feel connected to society. We feel like we belong to the winning team. Replicate that feeling by the millions around the world. When Jordan dunks, he scores a collective goal for all of us who admire him.
We see these examples of their achievements and believe that if we work hard enough, we too could achieve the same level of success. Few of us do. But we have proof that it’s possible. And so we dream. Like Warhol was to Basquiat in the art world, Magic Johnson to Jordan on the basketball court, Kid Cudi to Kanye’s sound or Fendi and Louis Vuitton to his fashion sense.
This is American culture and we’re buying pieces of the America dream physically manifested in a tube of lipstick, a pair of running shoes or the unrealistic, unattainable ideal of perfection in an anatomically incorrect doll. If we take a look at the people behind the products, the real people behind the brand image, we run the risk of dismantling the dream.
The people behind the brands are underdogs who persevered through difficult times, she says. “What’s cool about this is, I’m humanizing the brands a little bit,” which she seems pleased to say, puts her in the role of teacher.
Each piece of artwork took her about six months to finish. She sourced items from all over the world, pulling out the most significant points in each subject’s life, carefully chosen based on their societal contributions. From there she added elements that were relevant to the time she was trying to reflect.
Each piece tells a bit of the history of the subject. The Chanel artwork tells us about the designer’s life. “When she was trying to escape the war, she stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Paris. So I ordered a vintage Ritz Carlton Paris notepad to put in the piece,” Briony says.
As part of her research Briony found that Barbie is actually from Wisconsin, not Malibu. In fact, the idea for Barbie came from much farther away. She’s patterned after a European doll named Bild Lilli. The concept for the all-American Barbie, is German.
Some other things you didn’t know about Barbie
– Mattel is the largest clothing manufacturer in the world because of Barbie clothing.
– The Pentagon approves all of Barbie’s military outfits.
– Every 3 seconds a Barbie is sold.
– Gucci [is] one of the many brands [that] Barbie teamed up with.
– Mattel purchased commercials during Mickey Mouse to announce Barbie.
– Briony, from ‘homage’
All these personalities have made successes of their tragedies and learned to persevere. Even Barbie suffered in the early days for having a bad reputation. She was characterized as a “gold-digging floozy” marketed to adults when she was originally introduced in a cartoon in Bild newspaper. After being bought by Mattel, she was marketed as a children’s toy and only later became a symbol of independence.
Kanye recorded the song Through the Wire with his jaw wired shut. He would become a top-selling artist world-wide. Coco Chanel’s father gave her away to an orphanage where nuns taught her to sew. She used her skills to create an empire. And, the little black dress.
The hair roller in the Estee Lauder piece is reminiscent of her days visiting salons to sell her product by first demonstrating it to women while they were under hair dryers. Her company would go on to reach phenomenal success with many brands like Aramis, Clinique, MAC, La Mer, SmashBox, Aveda, Too Faced, Jo Malone London and Bobbi Brown.
As a child, Basquiat was hit by a car. While he was recovering in hospital he received a copy of Gray’s Anatomy, from which he learned to draw the anatomy of the human body and used those skills heavily in his work. Many critics consider him to be the most important artist of the 20th century.
In Briony’s work the objects of virtu carry with them the reminder that we have the potential to overcome hardship, are symbols of our desire to succeed, and could represent a nod to predestination. No matter what gets in the way, we all end where we’re supposed to. Most of all it’s a tribute to those in our society who triumph, against all odds.
homage, a pop-up an art show, at 49 Ossington Ave. from April 4 – 13.