JANE MAXWELL: THE NEO-FEMININE MYSTIQUE
By Peter Frank
In her art, brimming with references to contemporary media, Jane Maxwell addresses herself to the consumption-driven society she inhabits. In such a mediated milieu, where stuff and spectacle are offered equally to a necessarily voracious audience, the competition for appetites ultimately serves to enhance rather than sate appetite per se. As a result, as Maxwell’s art infers, we live in a never-ending cycle of enticement. No image is more prevalent in this discourse of temptation than that of woman. That’s right, no “a” or “the,” just “woman,” a distilled, perfected essence of a particular sex – gender as genre, aimed at consumers of all sexes, whether consumers of sex, consumers of sexiness, or consumers of goods accessory to the same feelings of well-being that sex itself might provide.
We could call Maxwell a neo-Pop artist. It is the Pop critique, brash and direct, that Maxwell’s art seeks to revive. Indeed, in her neo-feminist statement she recapitulates many of the proto-feminist graphic strategies employed by female Pop artists such as Marjorie Strider and Rosalyn Drexler. Like them, Maxwell acknowledges both the prevalence of the printed word and the predominance of fixed visual icon and moving image alike in our visual awareness. Unlike them, the media world Maxwell inhabits, now centered on the personal computer, conflates word and image in kinetic as well as static contexts. Telephone and television have given way to iPad and iPhone, radically furthering the integration of message and medium. Maxwell’s neo-Pop is far more electronic, at least by inference, than was Strider’s and Drexler’s.
Still, by her own admission, Maxwell’s preoccupation is not with the medium, or the mediation, so much as with the message – and the manipulation. Her hip, graceful silhouettes echo and amplify the appeal to men and complementary appeal to women built into every girl-graced advertisement. She seeks to deconstruct this allure, clarifying in particular the hectoring, ultimately destructive message it sends women. While exploiting men’s desire, it exploits women’s desire to be desired, forging constrictive ideals that dominate female consciousness from childhood (and no longer just in the First World).
Jane Maxwell is an artist with a message, and the message is her mission. But it is only part of her mission; like all good artists, she is concerned equally with saying what she has to say and saying it in the best and most distinctive ways possible. To this end she has, Pop Art-style, adopted the graphic modalities of the world around and before her. But instead of adhering to Pop’s impeccable surface – and the impenetrable glint of the computer screen – Maxwell activates and even delves her compositions with the complex sensuality of collage. This gives her statements a tactile immediacy. In McLuhanesque terms it pushes her “cool” images into “warmer” realms of experience. Maxwell’s art thus speaks to us on intimate terms about broad social issues, reminding us that those issues affect us all intimately.