When I am working with a live model, I like to also know something about them, if they want to share. And that’s not always the case. But the model Marisa, wanted to share the story of her dress, and the dress became the subject of my painting. On first observation, I think this painting reads as a traditional portrait of a beautiful young woman in a striking red dress. But because of the emotional connection that I perceived the model had with the dress, I felt a certain intensity that influenced the bold depiction of the dress, and the model, during the painting’s execution. I’m hoping the intensity may give a hint at an extra layer of meaning in this work.
When Marisa showed up to model for myself and a few artist friends, she had on a beautiful white, flowing dress, some pale flowers in her hair, and long vintage earrings on. She looked soft and beautiful as if she had just stepped out of a Victorian novel. But then she showed us another dress that she brought along. It was a one-off design, in art deco style, mostly red and black, with bold shapes outlined in contrasting piping, and with a light-colored pattern made of shapes and flowers that went around the skirt symmetrically and up onto both sides of the bodice. The dress was bold, unique, warm, creative, independent, and it had dimension. It said non-conformist in every way. It had personality and intelligence; it seemed full of surprises. The fabric was not light and frilly; it was sturdy and reliable, and it was dominated in color by a very red, red. We artists unanimously agreed that Marisa should wear that dress. And when she did she seemed to change.
Marisa told us the story of the dress. Her mother was out shopping for a wedding dress with her mother when they came upon the dress that Marisa’s mother fell in love with and wanted to be married in. Marisa’s grandmother told her daughter that she would buy her the dress if she promised not to wear it at the wedding. And so that is how the dress came to belong to Marisa’s mother. Years later, when she was only age 6, Marisa lost her mother, and from then on her grandmother raised her. That is all we really learned of the story, except a few more bits and pieces of stories about her mother that indicated she was a rebel. She probably embodied the same distinguishing qualities as her dress. Maybe she passed down those traits to her daughter. Maybe her daughter feels comfort wearing the dress. Maybe it gives her strength. Maybe she feels love. All supposition on the artist’s part. But maybe a feeling can be captured, stored, and given life through a painting of a dress.
Marisa’s Dress, by Teresa Baksa is included in the current exhibition: GO FIGURE: EXPLORING THE HUMAN FORM, curated by Deborah Forman.
CAPE COD MUSEUM OF ART Cape Cod Center for the Arts, RT 6A, Dennis, MA
Public Opening Reception September 13, 5:30 – 7 pm
Gallery Talk with Deborah Forman – Sept 20, 1:30 pm
On view September 13, 2018 - February 17, 2019