Denver-based artist Mark Penner-Howell’s work was brought to my attention by Chris – who isn’t a WordPress or email follower of the blog, so all thanks to him for taking the time – and although images of girls aren’t central to M P-H’s oeuvre, he certainly doesn’t use them just as cyphers.
The painting above is called, or forms part of, Lost Rituals of Childhood, of which he says:
“The children in these paintings are depicted in costumes or in moments of “play”, but are done so in a way that heightens the performative and ritualistic aspects of their behavior. Bravery, uncertainty, wariness and defiance are psychological states I’m interested in exploring. I mean for this collage of images to function as a sort of Rorschach that reveals patterns of meaning to the individual viewer.” (markpennerhowell.com)
He says elsewhere that he collects a lot of related imagery from various sources – plays about with it on the computer – before arriving at an idea for a painting: the depiction usually being visually ironic, but the intention completely serious. In this painting the girls are playing about with cosplay/furry iconography – which reminded me strongly of the following image (she’s adult, by the way): it’s apparently only available in a book (available on Japanese Amazon) teaching how to draw anime, sourced in the subsequent reposts on Tumblr (see below – only over-18s should follow the link):
…it would be interesting to know if it (or something similar) provided part of the inspiration – and also if the “twin” girls’ faces indicates that he was working with one model (or a variety of headshots of one model – the faces are incredibly realistic).
I’m having to be very reductive with the artist’s work, since the presence of a young female figure isn’t always central to its meanings, however well he depicts the girl in question – the “Jane” character (in his sequence putting the iconic “reader” children Dick and Jane in perilous situations) is necessarily a young girl: however her gender isn’t essential to the effect – if the books had featured two brothers, he’d have incorporated them with the same implications.
Here are the relevant paintings I’ve teased out of his portfolio, but I’d strongly advise anyone whose interest has been piqued to follow these links to his site and blog – he’s very articulate, and (unlike many artists) isn’t afraid to give his thought processes and perceived artistic themes for each and every painting, with the video at the bottom giving a good insight into the man himself – quite an impressive guy:
[Some more detective work on M P-H’s influences/models – done after initial posting, I’m afraid, like the one further down – this stock image seems to be the one he based the girl’s face above on – first the main image, then a close-up of the face on the left, M P-H’s rendition on the right:
….it looks pretty conclusive, particularly the shape of the lips. The shot is a normal stock image by “Lunamarina“, who uses this particular model a lot, often for pictures of her playing with makeup, on Depositphotos et al. Graphically, it’s interesting that he pretty well incorporated her “hippy” headband with the positioning of the “astrological”circular strip. However, the main feeling you get is that he’s perfectly happy using every-day material for his inspiration.]
[Immediately after posting, I noticed the little design in the bottom left-hand corner of the painting above, of a mother trying a dress for size by holding it up against her daughter – here’s the original – interesting if it formed part of the rationale for the picture itself:]