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My small scale, oil on Dura-lar matte paintings are set in fictional cinematic spaces in which clothed women stand drenched or recline immersed in opaque, tinted water in various states of vaguely suggestive languor. Attired almost conservatively in a hybrid mélange of ’classic’ fashions, the model maneuvers within the restrictive space of the bath, sometimes enveloped in a gently poured, innocuously colored foam. Her clothing is transformed from functional raiment or social adornment into a richly colored, luminescent second skin that reveals or conceals based upon the sitter’s wishes. Exaggerated make-up effects and semi-transparent veils further enhance the hypnotic feel of this darkly playful, interiorized sensual space.

My process thrives on a continuous collaboration between the sitter and myself, allowing formal choices and meanings to expand and become richly complex and nuanced over time. The paintings are based on photographs of these scenes within which my lifelong, personalized fascinations with this imagery, filtered through the experiences of the model, are reimagined with unexpectedly unique results. What may appear as discomfiting, irreal images of hyperbolic absurdity are in fact intimately individuated spaces within which the model invents her own private world of play, renewal and transcendence. As a result, it’s often impossible for me to discern whether this is a portrait of the woman herself or the depiction of a character she’s conjured.

Embracing iconic film and photographic tropes adapted from such disparate genres as silent slapstick comedy and web based self-portraiture, I am also intrigued by the paintings of van der Weyden, Cranach, Sargent and Christian Schad. Like an isolated frame freed from the communal comfort of theatrical fiction, my paintings conjure a captured moment out of time and context asking how much do our embellishments hide and how much do these masks inadvertently betray. These singular spaces of elegant, silent abandon, introspective delight and ambient indulgence are mirrors upon which the viewer sees reflected their own desire or unease.


John D. Monteith 2012