Pop Culture Painter
Disney with a Twist: Austin artist transforms popular images to startlingeffects
If you've ever stopped at the intersection of Airport Boulevard and Manor Road, you may have noticed a peculiar billboard featuring the disembodied limbs of recognizable Disney characters like Mickey Mouse and Buzz Lightyear reassembled in a mad configuration that both confuses and excites the mind.
The billboard is a massive reproduction of Austin pop artist Jenny Meyer's "Hang Town," which won the opportunity for display through Austin Art Boards' 2011 competition. "I wanted to create a piece that reflected Austin's laid back vibe, so it conveys a comfortable body posture in my general style," says Meyer during a walkthrough of her new exhibition at Art on 5th. "It's great seeing my paintings so large and in an urban landscape because it provides a new aspect to my work."
Meyer typically works on a much smaller scale, creating heavily saturated canvases covered in clear color blocks of brightly colored acrylics. For years, she has been using the figures that she loved drawing as a child—Disney's iconic characters—and reconfiguring them into abstract shapes and positions. Meyer encourages viewers "to fill in the gaps and tell their own stories about what the images mean to them."
Not all of her works are Disney-specific. Her latest works are geared more toward identifiable inanimate objects like pogo sticks, Christmas lights and lifelike articles of clothing. The basic figures are still recognizable and the interplay between the colorful foreground and the shadowed background tricks the eye into forming a unique dialogue between the two.
"Shadow, to me, isn't about gradient," explains Meyer, "it's a very clear transition. So I have a different approach to creating depth. I prefer really detailed lines instead." The backgrounds sometimes contain elaborate patterns to set off the foreground figures while others remain stark to highlight the shadows behind said figures.
Meyer is also providing a video element to her exhibition that allows her viewers to witness her artistic process. Through a series of sped-up stop-motion animations, you can actually watch Meyer create many of the works in the current exhibit, edits and all. "A lot of people asked about my process, and it was difficult to explain," says Meyer. "So I decided to show people how it works, and the response has been great."
"I've always had a cartoon filter, which is why I love animation in general," says Meyer. "That's part of why I'm so interested in adding the video portion to my work. I'm really interested in motion and body movement. I think suggested movement plays a big part in all of my paintings."
Pop music plays a big part in her creation process, and the soundtracks to each of her videos matches the frenetic energy of her fast-forward movements. "My paintings have a lot of volume themselves," laughs Meyer. "I'm listening to music all the time in my studio and I'm trying to incorporate it more in all of my work." These engaging videos add an extra layer of chronology to the final products hung on display in the gallery and help the viewer understand the evolving thought process that goes into her works.
Bold color choices are a signature of Meyer, who has training in fashion, makeup and accessory design during her education at the Fashion Insitute of Technology of New York and the Art Institute of Chicago.
"For some paintings, I'll already have a color combination in mind where I limit the color choices. And others I'll use just about every possible color. I started thinking about the masculine and feminine elements of each painting and the effects the colors have on each painting's message."
With the use of Disney figures, the age-old question of inspiration versus pop art influence comes to mind. When Andy Warhol created his own Mickey Mouse replications (in his series with Marilyn Monroe and the Campbell's soup can), he defended himself, saying that commercialization had already made these images so effusive, they now belonged to the cultural zeitgeist.
To avoid any confusion, Meyer takes a minimalist approach, choosing to use only parts of the famous characters, never any faces. "I try to disguise the images and manipulate it so it's not completely identifiable so I'm not completely copying anything," clarifies Meyer. "I think artists get their ideas everywhere, but it's important to be original."
Surprisingly, Meyer does not watch cartoons these days like she used to. "I don't really watch cartoons anymore, which is ironic, isn't it?" laughs Meyer. "I do like Spongebob Squarepants, but he's so hard to draw because he's so flat and square. I suppose that's what I love about Disney and Pixar."
A native of Westlake, Meyer is today a full-time Austin artist, and proceeds from tonight's opening reception at Art on 5th will go toward aiding in Texas Wildfire Relief. Meyer was also one of the leading figures at this year's ACL, raising money for this effort at the Texas Wildfire Relief and Red Cross booth, which raised $35,000 in funds. "It's close to home for me," says Meyer, "so it's a great opportunity to give back to the community."
Tonight's reception begins at Art on 5th at 6 p.m. and includes complimentary appetizers from Sushi Zushi and cocktails from Deep Eddy Vodka.