Photorealistic Contemporary Art > “Arianna Tamaddon’s art questions the politics of what is classified as female and how that is translated into what femininity is supposed to look like in the world, said a recent press release from Art Ventures Gallery in Silicon Valley, CA. “In fact, the art itself, ingrained with strong definitions of feminism makes statement after statement on the power of woman and choice in the trophy age of artifice.”
Tamaddon’s photorealistic paintings are on view at Art Ventures Gallery through May 31, 2021, in an exhibition titled “Covet – Trophies in an Age of Artifice.”
“‘Artifice’ is applicable to Silicon Valley,” continued the gallery, “but its broader context is the rise of social media and curated digital personas. The internet is filled with artifice in the sense of filters, Photoshop and the specific curation of images – all methods of distortion that hold women to an impossible standard of eternal youth and beauty which essentially objectifies women as an aesthetic prize or trophy.
“Tamaddon challenges the power dynamic within the subject displayed on the canvas, defeating the western cultures cultivation of relentless pursuit of this ideal by augmenting the purported value of form over substance. Women are often treated as a trophy or a doll, a fragile combination that is supposed to fit into a media classification.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Arianna Tamaddon for the following exclusive coverage of her exhibition:
Cherie Dawn Haas: What were your early works like? Did you see a gradual transition toward feminism and the way culture views and treats women, or has that always been an influential factor in your art?
Arianna Tamaddon: My earliest works centered around superficiality and perfect surfaces. I used make-up and masks as the key visuals to depict the tragic futility we find in raging against inevitability—aging and the passage of time. However, as a person who engages in the very same socially-engineered customs of femininity that fuel my explorations in this space, I was confronted with the key cognitive dissonance that has permeated my work since.
How can it be that a person can be fully aware of the damage these customs inflict onto women—that which the fashion and beauty industries limitlessly profiteer from—and still find pleasure in one’s participation with them? Can women wield the tools of self-sculpture with agency and ownership and without falling prey to chauvinistic fatalism or consumeristic self-degradation?
Questions like these inspired me to dive into this space and unmask the artifice of these coveted female forms.
CDH: What would you like for younger women and girls to take away from your paintings?
AT: We, as a society, consume images at an extremely high volume. With that amount of content saturation comes a lack of feasible curation of what shapes and filters these images are fed through. Now, more than ever before, young women and girls need to develop a critical eye to scrutinize the media they’re consuming.
We are, more or less, ambling through the shadows in each and every portal we interact with, and this repeat exposure to unrealistic figures and to inauthentic, profit-driven expectations rapidly forms a distorted lens through which to view beauty and self-expression.
As long as our culture continues down this image-obsessed path, I want young adults to be equipped as savvy consumers.
CDH: Is there a specific painting of yours that’s most meaningful to you?
AT: “Fountain” (2019), short for the Fountain of Youth, has recently been most meaningful to me. The hands depicted appear unable to grasp the slippery substance running through its fingers. Despite much effort, we find the alluring liquid pooled beneath—as unattainable as it is out of sight.
There is truly nothing exceptional to youth. It doesn’t require specialized skills, or talents, or even any effort for that matter. Yet, as inexorable as aging itself, we find this unending war for everlasting youth. The object of our culture’s obsession, everlasting youth’s superficial veneer diminishes any genuine substance it comes into contact with.
Our beauty standards erase older women, and in this marginalization, we lose their wisdom, their experience, and their individuality.
CDH: What are some common and uncommon reactions you’ve seen from viewers? Is there a single work that seems to get the most attention?
AT: The most common initial reaction I hear is “I thought it was a photograph!”, which is easily one of the best technical compliments for a photorealistic oil painter such as myself. However, upon closer inspection of the content, viewers often tell me that the works possess an unexplainable alluring quality, despite the unusual and sometimes disturbing nature of the subject matter depicted.
The piece that best embodies this is “Gag Order” (2018), which shows a subject on the brink of asphyxiation. The sensual palette, parted lips, and glossy plastic invite the viewer to remark on something as horrific as it is beautiful.
The title of the work speaks to the suffocating reality of our society’s superficial fixation on surface-level beauty. The subject is viewed through a barrier of plastic, posing her to be observed, but not heard. I’ve sought the line between attraction and repulsion in order to implicate the viewer directly in the horrors on the canvas, forcing them to consider the price of pleasure.
CDH: What’s next for you?
AT: I want to dive deeper into themes I’ve just begun to broach, as I am far from answering these current questions. I’ll continue exploring feminism and concepts that apply to my own female experience, but with an emphasis on the ever-changing landscape of social media, technology, and the internet. These new frontiers of advertising and consumption are sure to tug the threads we’ve discussed today.
Ultimately, my favorite pieces spawn out of organic exploration. I follow where the aesthetics, materials, and subjects guide while considering the “why” for what makes me drawn to them along the way. In the future I hope to more deeply explore authorship, as in how women can take ownership of their own curated content online (and how authentic this content can be while operating in such a saturated marketplace). I also hope to explore empowerment and the moving goal posts of modesty and privacy on the internet.
In my piece, “Mother’s Milk” (above), I explore society’s oft-coupling of motherhood as intrinsically linked to womanhood. Within the painting, milk is depicted as superimposed onto the breast, rather than produced by the breast itself. This illuminates the maternal image our society foists upon women.
The woman in this piece is left stripped of her own sense of agency, as an unseen external force has taken the very substance her breast produces and douses her chest in it. Womanhood and femininity are more ﬂuid and farther reaching than they’re typically classiﬁed. Not all women are mothers; not all women desire to, choose to, or are able to become mothers. “Mother’s Milk” questions the ill-conceived belief that a woman’s womanhood is made sacrosanct as per her fertility and her maternal instinct.
About Arianna Tamaddon:
Arianna Tamaddon is both a painter and photographer, primarily painting photorealistic oil paintings from her photography. Her work explores the interactions between power structures and beauty through the contrasting tactility of natural and artificial surfaces. She graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut and is currently based in San Francisco, California. Website: ariannavisuals.com
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