Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Warriors In Gowns and Other Plot Twists by Gina Pfleegor

Gina Pfleegor
"Plot Twist" (oil paint on panel)

 Gina Pfleegor is a "pop-surrealist" artist we've recently discovered, thanks to Beautiful Bizarre Magazine's RAYMAR Traditional Art Award contest, 2021, in which the delightful painting above was chosen as a finalist. 

We adore the title: "Plot Twist", which is the perfect introduction to the series this painting belongs to

While not focused completely on fairy tales, it's both fitting and not surprising to find fairy tales referenced; specifically, The Frog King, Beauty and the Beast, and Rapunzel but also alluding to Fairy (Tale) Land in general. The series endeavors to reconsider femininity and heroism (or heroine-ism); exploring the struggle between defining strength (for women especially, but the struggle isn't limited to those who identify as "she/her") and just what being female - or how to incorporate a sense of femininity in one's life, means.

“In this series of paintings, I found myself drawn to a subject I know well; that balance of feeling strong yet feminine as a woman in our society today. Attempting to depict a sense of authenticity regarding what this can often feel like, I used symbolism to show that we can be both without sacrificing the other. Sensual can be strong, determined can be vulnerable, and sometimes warriors wear gowns into battle.”

Gina Pfleegor (Artist statement on the series via West End Gallery)

Redefining the narrative is what this series is all about and that becomes very clear when you learn the titles for each of the pieces. We found musing on the paintings in conjunction with their titles so fun we thought we'd share our personal commentary. Please note, the artist hasn't commented much on her intent for each piece so every viewer is free to see what they wish... ;)

"Plot Twist" gives us a sinister but refreshing and cathartic ending to The Frog King (more popularly known as The Frog Prince). The lily pad wallpaper, with its sperm-like design seeking to devour its fellow "lily pads" shows the futility of doing so against this princess. One eyebrow is raised in challenge to the viewer, while the little crown is left on the plate for her to consume, take or leave as she chooses. 
"Plot Twist"
"And She Lived Happily Ever After" focuses on a very satisfied looking Beauty (or Belle, since the yellow dress, and jowls above are both a Disney callback), with the Beast almost out of frame, behind her, no longer an obstacle but a trophy, even as her own story continues (with a lot more to come, judging by how big that book is!). 
"And She Lived Happily Ever After"
"Slay" portrays a Rapunzel with lopped-off hair, (we like to think she did it herself with that sword!), looking post-battle sweaty, sunbeams shining down triumphantly as she sits, sword remaining at the ready, a dead dragon relegated to her background. The dragon might be closer to her than the tower she was once trapped in, but it's still left well behind as she looks to her future from her (literal) rock-solid base. 
The tea-drinker, ear cocked toward the flying bluebird is titled "Do Tell" and, while not obviously referencing a particular fairy tale, clearly bears the marks of one. (Snow White came to mind immediately with the combination of domestic and "ladylike" motifs being disrupted as well as her obvious affinity to nature but she could easily represent quite a range of fairy tale heroines.) Birds in fairy tales are not only linked to the soul but are agents of transformation, and bringers of knowledge. The savvy princess, also in blue like the bird - a color strangely rare in fairy tales - even as she drinks tea, pinky finger held just-so as per the rules of polite society, she has her ear attuned for secrets and knowledge. Whether via gossip or riddling out tidbits of information from strange sources, the blue hints at the supernatural; a connection to nature and knowledge beyond the norm, (and, we like to believe, a sign of potential happiness), while the orange-gold not only suggests class but that underneath lies a resistance to rules, perhaps even a rebel on the rise. Curiosity, the thirst for knowledge, is both women's hallmark of agency and, traditionally, the "vice" warned against for leading her to female downfall. The bird and woman sharing blue speaks of trust, and a bond that works together against opposing forces, while the orange marks them as rebellious collaborators. There's a lot suggested in this piece but clearly, the woman is poised for something new - be it knowledge or action. No passive princess here.
"Do Tell"
We wanted to include another piece that not only has a clear connection to the land of the Fairy Tale but holds an additional clue to its potency that the average viewer might easily overlook. The title for the piece is "Charmed", and it appears the queen here has charmed the serpent, instead of it being the other, traditional, way around. Behind her head, though, the sun holds another clue: the Latin words "amor et melle et felle est fecundissimus" meaning "love is rich, with both honey and venom*". This is not a girl to underestimate or a woman to be ruled over by another. She is just as potent as the creature she holds gently around her neck and in her hands and meets the viewer's gaze shrewdly and confidently. She is the fairy tale heroine with agency, with personality and if her nemesis - or partner - is given a name, you can be sure she will have one too.
Just like the direct gaze of these female characters challenges the viewer to reconsider their first glance at these pieces, the narratives implied by the symbolism used in each, ask that you redefine and rewrite the assumptions - something very central to women's issues, as well as issues of narrative, today.

You can see the rest of this series by Pfleegor HERE and stay up to date with her projects and appearances through her blog on Facebook HERE. To finish we found an earlier fairy tale-themed piece, from 2018, titled "The Sorrow Of The Snow Queen" that we insta-loved. While it doesn't really fit into the spirit of the current 2021 series it also says a lot more than what you see at first glance. Instead of telling you what we see this time, though, we'll let you think about what it says to you.
"The Sorrow Of The Snow Queen"

*To be accurate the full quote, by Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus is:

amor et melle et felle est fecundissimus;

gustui dat dulce, amarum ad satietatem usque oggerit.

Which translates as:

“Love exceedingly abounds both in honey and in gall: it yields sweetness even in a taste, and produces bitterness to sufficiency”.