Author Tara Moss in re-creation of pulp fiction novel Murder by the Book
Film Noir and Pulp Fiction ‘Bad Girl’ Personas Re-imagined in New Portrait Series of High Profile Australian Females
Sydney, Australia: Presented by the Historic Houses Trust of NSW (HHT) and opening 20 October 2012, Wicked Women is a playful, subversive and wickedly sexy exhibition of new works by prize-winning artist Rosemary Valadon. Inspired by the ‘bad-girl’ persona from the vibrant early to mid-20th-century pulp fiction and film noir styles, the artist invited 17 contemporary female personalities to take on the roles of sinful sirens and pose as a ‘femme fatale’ from that time.
By placing strong, confident, modern females in that pulp fiction and film noir style setting, the artist hopes to overthrow the sexist overtones of the original artworks – thereby transforming sexist into sexy. The resulting portraits capture the look of the original artworks but add a vibrant and playful modern-day twist that reflects the sitter’s personality, subtly changing the intent of the original artwork and celebrating contemporary female leaders.
Each of the portrait sitters was carefully selected for being a leader in their respective fields, spanning entertainment, journalism, academia, literature and the law. The Wicked Women portrait series includes some of Australia’s highest profile contemporary female figures, such as: Tara Moss, Rachel Ward, Skye Leckie, Imogen Kelly, Sonia Kruger, Ros Reines, Larissa Behrendt, Antonella Gambotto-Burke, Margaret Cunneen, Essie Davis, Annette Shun Wah, Kara Shead.
In 2009 Valadon was the first artist-in-residence at the HHT’s Justice and Police Museum in Sydney, where she researched the history and depictions of women and crime, in particular the place of the ‘femme fatale’ in pulp fiction and society. The artist explored the Museum’s extensive collection, including early 20th century weapons, court transcripts and evidence, as well as crime scene photographs. She also visited the Museum’s exhibition at that time Femme Fatale: The Female Criminal where she was struck by the vast contrast between the glamorous depictions of women in the pulp fiction covers and the reality of the mug shots of real female criminals from eras past.
“The idea of women gone wrong has always provided rich material for artists, and I myself have been fascinated by this depiction of ‘bad women’ in popular culture at that time. I particularly loved the teasing wickedness of the pulp fiction covers and their sense of playfulness. But instead of comparing the pulp fiction covers of the past with female criminals at the time, I chose to bring the works into present day by comparing them with real life female figures,” Rosemary Valadon explained. Wicked Women has been almost four years in the making. The sitters were asked to choose one original pulp fiction cover or film noir poster that appealed to them. They then replicated the pose of the woman on the cover and the artist captured the image through sketches, photographs and a painted portrait.
“Through Wicked Women, I am exploring present day role models and the inroads women have made into defining themselves on their own terms. The works neutralize and make fun of the male interpretation of the femme fatale of that period,” said Valadon.
“I hope that the works draw out the fullness of contemporary women’s personalities, their humour, independence and vivacity. Each of the sitters was happy to make fun at the original artwork and overtly sexualiused style of that time, as well as claiming the ‘dangerous woman’ tag as an elemental part of their own personality. But more importantly, they were also happy to celebrate the glory of this.”
As well as the 17 key portraits, the exhibition features more than 30 drawings documenting the artist’s creative process, along with objects from the Justice and Police Museum collection such as hand guns and rifles.
Kate Clark, Director of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW says the HHT is pleased to host an exhibition that provides a contemporary take on objects and stories from the past.
“The HHT is delighted to present this exhibition which was originally inspired by the fascinating images and objects from the collection housed at the Justice & Police Museum.”
Newspaper columnist Ros Reines in re-creation of pulp fiction novel Pay Off
PORTRAIT SITTERS SPEAKING ABOUT WICKED WOMEN ART WORKS:
Tara Moss: Bestselling novelist, TV host, journalist and UNICEF patron
‘Women have long been portrayed via limiting stereotypes in fiction and film. In some ways the archetype of the ‘wicked woman’ or femme fatale is refreshingly rebellious, if unrealistic. I have a soft spot for film noir bad girls. Rosemary shares my fascination with female criminality and the disconnect between how wicked women are portrayed in fiction and film and how they are in real life.’
Larissa Behrendt: Writer, lawyer
‘I thought those old-style covers had a kind of glamour – a little cheesy but also quite sexist. I knew how powerful Rosemary’s ability was to capture the femininity and power of women from her earlier work and I was sure she would do something that would empower women, would subvert the underlying misogyny of the original pictures. So I chose one where a woman was taking control – as opposed to being a victim.’
Margaret Cunneen: Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor
‘Wicked Women is an exciting series of works because it explores the perception of hot-blooded women in an era when women were expected to be more demure and compliant than they are today. These women, in my view, were portrayed as sassy, sexy and impulsive to the point of dangerousness. I think the work evokes a passionate, gutsy and high-spirited woman who has been strengthened, through hardship, to ultimate resilience.’
Imogen Kelly: World’s Queen of Burlesque, performer and advocate for women’s rights in the performing arts
‘I’ve always been a fan of these book covers. Some might see them as sexist and crude but I think they capture a moment in our evolving history as women. They capture the social fear of women’s growing sense of confidence and self-esteem; that fear being that if we became masters of our own sexual power, we’d all turn into amoral killers of the male kind.’
Skye Leckie: Former PR consultant for David Jones, supporter of non-profit organisations, and mother
‘I have always liked film noir movies. I’m especially drawn to the idea of the femme fatale – the mysterious woman who is able to charm and romance a man, often into dangerous, compromising and exciting situations. I like the way the women in some of the stories entrance the male character and cause him to be powerless. I also particularly like the tales where these women are heroic, ensnaring villainous men for the greater good.’
Holly Schulte: HHT Curator of Digital Assets
‘The scene depicted on the Billion Dollar Body cover intrigued me. The streamers, confetti and bloodied lip imply a celebratory scene suddenly punctuated by a sinister act. Questions follow. Why is blood dripping from her mouth? Who is she pointing her gun at so determinedly? The shadowy background and dramatic “lighting” heighten her presence as the central and dominant character in the scene. I felt that the final painting would not be of me exactly. Not that there could really be any confusion – I don’t attend dangerous parties or carry a gun in my purse!’
Kara Shead: Criminal lawyer
‘The image was appealing from the start. It represents the antithesis of how I am often dressed for work in wig and gown. The vulnerability the image called for was at once attractive and daunting. Rosemary’s painting is voluptuous and full of feeling. It captures a moment in time with great subtlety and nuance.’
Ros Reines: Newspaper columnist
‘I have been waiting all my life for someone to ask me to sit for a portrait. The only problem is that I am being depicted as a murderous whore but, hey, it’s a start. I loved the fact that at least I was on top of the situation. I was in a position of power. I think Rosemary’s portrait captures my fearlessness and I do look a little calculated. I’ve known Charles Waterstreet for decades but apparently [in this painting] I want to kill him, so I am balanced on a door and waiting for him to stick his head up – Charles is known for sticking his head up and quite clearly I’ve had enough.’
Justice and Police Museum
Cnr Phillip and Albert Streets, Sydney
Tickets: $10 general, $5 concession
Telephone: 02 9252 1144
WICKED WOMEN PUBLIC PROGRAM DETAILS
Dress to Kill
Friday 1 February 2013
For one evening the Justice and Police Museum transforms into a house of ill repute. Join the dangerous dames of the Wicked Women exhibition for live performances, music, pin-up life drawing and more. Dress to kill and score a prize, and have your mug shot taken in the charge room.
6-10pm at the Justice & Police Museum,
Tickets $75/$65, visit tickets.hht.net.au
Billion Dollar Body: Dangerous Lines
Sunday 24 February 2013
Celebrated artist Rosemary Valadon will lead an afternoon life-drawing class featuring actual models from her Wicked Women exhibition.
12-4pm at the Justice & Police Museum
Tickets $75/$65, visit tickets.hht.net.au
She Couldn’t Be Good
Friday 15 March 2013
A titillating panel on the virtues of being a wicked woman. Entry includes a curator-led tour of the exhibition and drinks. Featuring exhibition models Skye Leckie, Charles Waterstreet, Annette Shun Wah and Larissa Behrendt.
6pm-9pm at the Justice & Police Museum
Tickets $30/$25, visit tickets.hht.net.au
Murder By the Book
Sunday 21 April 2013
Learn the secrets of crime writing. This day-long master class includes lunch and a curator-led tour of the Justice and Police Museum, the inspiration for many of Sydney’s most notorious tales.
10am-4pm at the Justice & Police Museum
Tickets $150/$140, visit tickets.hht.net.au