THE BEAUTY PARADOX
in conversation with MARILYN minter
GEM FLETCHER INTERVIEWS THE TRAILBLAZING CONTEMPORARY ARTIST MARILYN MINTER TO EXPLORE HOW HER WORK EMPHASIZES THE STRENGTH AND SENSUALITY OF THE IMPERFECT FEMALE BODY. GORGEOUS AND GROTESQUE, MINTER'S PIECES URGE THE VIEWER TO CONFRONT DEEP-ROOTED SOCIETAL PARADOXES SURROUNDING OUR IDEAS ABOUT BEAUTY, DESIRE, AND SEDUCTION.
“NO ONE HAS POLITICALLY CORRECT FANTASIES,” MINTER TELLS ME. “I THINK PORNOGRAPHY, FASHION, AND GLAMOR ARE GIANT ENGINES OF THE CULTURE, AND SHOULD BE EXAMINED BY ARTISTS—NOT HELD IN CONTEMPT.”
IT’S FASCINATING TO ME THAT IF YOU’RE YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL AND WORK WITH SEXUAL IMAGERY, YOU ARE SUCH A THREAT TO BOTH MEN AND WOMEN. SOCIETY IS SUGGESTING WOMEN CAN’T BE THE OWNER OF SEXUAL POWER—THEY CAN ONLY BE THE OBJECT OF IT.”
At the core of Minter’s practice is a desire for conversation. Her art is a catalyst for dialogue, and lures the viewer in through her seductive and visceral approach. “100 Food Porn”, a collection of highly cropped sensorial paintings of food being prepared, evokes the parallels of desire in our relationship with food and sex. The paintings, mined from cookbooks, force the viewer to confront their voyeurism, implicating our tendency to read sex into the ordinary. Minter shares, “It’s this constant seduction paradox. When something can be so delicious, but it will make you fat if you keep eating it. I’m interested in the gray area where beauty gives you so much pleasure, but it causes so much pain. It’s one of the few places where women have real power, but you know you’re never going to look that good. No one looks that good.”
Much of Minter’s work focuses on finding the true allure that comes from the sensuality of imperfection. In “Blue Poles”, she takes a beautiful face laced with turquoise shadow and reveals the flaws—errant eyebrow hairs, freckles, the odd pimple. The painting is a celebration of beauty and the un-retouched face. She champions armpit hair, dirty toenails, the skin indentations left by a sock, and dedicates a whole series to female pubic hair. “You never see a bush in art history. Why is that?” Minter questions. “It’s not an ugly thing. I’m excited to put pubic hair back into the world. I’m still trying to find the most beautiful bushes to paint so that people can put them in their living room.”
Minter has been an activist her entire life, addressing topics like sexual abuse and reproductive rights, but the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election was a decisive moment in her practice. “You can be much more persuasive with humor and absurdity than with anger,” she says, and recalls a YouTube video from Finland in which a group called the Loldiers of Odin make fun of politics dressed as clowns. “Instead of white power, it’s wife power, and it’s a bunch of drag queens dressed as brides. Humor is much more effective in politics than anger.” Through Minter’s merger of art and activism, she employs humor, seduction, or absurdity to empower and enlighten her audience. “I’m not interested in being hit over the head with anything. All the art that I’m interested in is multilayered and has many readings. I want you to bring your history and trajectory as a viewer. What strikes me is when you see something you know to be true, but you’ve never seen an image of it. Those are the elements I’m always looking for when I’m making work. I don’t want it to be something that is an easy read.”
“I’M NOT INTERESTED IN BEING HIT OVER THE HEAD WITH ANYTHING. ALL THE ART THAT I’M INTERESTED IN IS MULTILAYERED AND HAS MANY READINGS.