More frightening than the monsters that hid under your bed are the monsters that exist in your closet or dresser drawers. I don't know if this rings true for men, but leaf through any place a woman houses her wardrobe and you'll come across a bevy of items that continuously torture her. Clothes that she holds onto in the hopes she'll lose that last five, 10, 20 pounds, a reminder of five years ago when she was smaller and could wear them. There are the "standing clothes"--skirts, pants and tops that look amazing and wear fine, if you are standing.
These clothes become painful, uncomfortable or ill fitting once a woman sits down. In reverse, there are the narrow, high-heeled shoes that look lovely and are comfortable, only when sitting. Standing too long or, heaven forbid, walking proves to be a fate worse than death. Open one of her dresser drawers and you'll be met with bras meant for pushing up and out and bras for pulling in. You'll find undergarments that squeeze every other inch of her to conceal those extra inches she deems excessive.
While we are definitely far removed from the days of boned corsets, June Cleaver cleaning and cooking in heels, the old adage that beauty is pain still rings true. While it can definitely be verbally expressed, this physical and emotional pain rarely is visible. The pain of lady's fashion and accessories has now truly received the correct artistic representation in the new TAC Gallery exhibit "Monsters in My Closet" from Claudia Hammer.
Louisville artist Claudia Hammer has had a long love affair with clothes and the arts. As a teenager growing up in the 1960s, she admired the fashions from Bergdorf Goodman and Lord & Taylor displayed in Vogue magazine. At a young age, she began sewing her own clothes created from making her own patterns. During later years, she had her own fashion company, I Claudia Hammer, in which she would design, make patterns and eventually create wedding dresses. Her career path also took her into fashion illustration.
It was throughout this tenor that she realized just how much the media pressures women to look a certain way. More importantly, it was a losing battle for anyone attempting to dress a certain way. A woman who fit into society's standards (and thus physically fit into what was fashionable) was still in pain when wearing the clothing deemed in vogue; a woman who couldn't fit into the fashionable clothing was also made to feel uncomfortable because she wasn't fitting in. "A Catch 22," Hammer said, "You're damned if you do and damned if you don't."
Now in her late 50s, Hammer has surpassed the stage of her life when she felt the need to be fashionable and regrettably uncomfortable at the same time. But she has held onto those beautiful, now vintage pieces and they are what inspired the artist to create the 12 paintings that make up the "Monsters in My Closet" exhibit.
Looking at her past wardrobe, she considers it a reminder of what she used to be, of what she wanted to be.
Her paintings have been described as art "depicting the relationship of pain and women's fashion and accessories. These works use surreal juxtapositions and grotesque imagery to convey the pain women endure in their search for beauty and acceptance."
Hammer is a self-described realist painter, a style she picked up throughout her years as a fashion illustrator. The exhibit consists largely of portraits of people in clothing inspired from Hammer's own closet.
An article Hammer read in which women were opting for surgery to remove their baby toes in order to fit more comfortably into narrow shoes inspired the painting "I Am Fitting Into These Shoes No Matter What." The painting displays a pair of high-heeled shoes with one leg being represented as a cactus. The other foot shows the sheer pain of the shoes, of the surgery. Hammer has deemed this the least realistic painting. Breaking her most represented style in the exhibit, this is the "fun" piece.
Any woman ever punctured by her own underwire can appreciate a painting like "Barbed Underwire." This painting features a woman wearing a red bustier with barbed wire wrapped around her, poking at her skin. According to the artist, the subject matter is meant to be serious, not a horror show. If anything, the paintings are thought provoking and a bit tongue in cheek.
Even the title of a painting like "It Looked Good in the Magazine" doesn't conjure up the image of a sequined dress on an hourglass figure that bleeds. An intriguing piece of information is that often runway models complain about the severity of sequins on garments. Their sharp edges cut skin and leave models concerned about walking down the catwalk with blood stains ruining a garment. It didn't seem likely that something as razzle dazzle as a sequined garment could create so much harm.
Similarly, an item that has continued throughout the years as a closet staple is also a difficult piece to wear. "It Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time" was inspired by stick straight, narrow pencil skirts. Hammer said that while pencil skirts look beautiful and elegant, women end up walking like geisha girls, crippled or bound by the inability to take any other kind of step. In the painting, a long silhouette of legs, draped in a pencil skirt, ends with chains wrapped around the ankles.
"No, No They Don't Hurt" is another shoe representation. Shoes, so long as they look incredible, are allowed to be as uncomfortable as ever. If a pair of pants has a tight waist band, you may not purchase them or discard wearing them; if shoes are so tight they scar your feet, you'll forgive them with the excuse that they just need to be broken in a little bit more. This unlearned lesson is represented in "No, No They Don't Hurt" which has pointed toe shoes jabbed with pushpins.
Hammer will attend the opening reception of "Monsters in My Closet" on August 1 from 6-9pm at the TAC Gallery, 9 E. Brady. The exhibit continues through Sat., August 23. Gallery hours are Tuesdays through Fridays 11am-2pm with additional evening hours Thursdays through Saturdays 6-9pm; appointments can also be made. To find out more information about "Monsters in My Closet" or other upcoming exhibitions at the TAC Gallery, visit www.tacgallery.org.
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