Beth Meadows’ current studio is a working space, not open to the public; but if you were to find your way there, you would find yourself in a nest of ideas – one lined with images and materials that the artist collects because they draw her attention. In the exhibit now hanging at Tomato Head Market Square, Meadows has assembled a collection of pieces that feature two prominent classes of things that consistently catch her eye: fashion and food packaging.
Many of the images depicted might seem familiar, and that’s because they’re drawn from the pages of fashion magazines. “They’re super models, “ Meadows says, “and the clothing is made out of a collage of food packaging. The idea was to mix this fascination I have with fashion that’s grown over the years with a negative feeling I have about grocery shopping. I don’t love it, grocery shopping, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that I’m trying not to be swayed by how things are packaged – because I don’t want to be marketed to or persuaded to buy things that are packaged beautifully. That’s really hard for an artist like me because I’m aesthetically inclined.”
The works are a mix of collage and drawing that are, in fact, based on photographs of super models; but as the she creates the piece, Meadows creates her own line of clothing for each – one that’s built from the food packaging that she normally resists:
“In order to make these I let myself go to the grocery store and buy packaging that was just really attractive. It made that shopping experience really enjoyable for the first time in a long time, so now I go specifically to buy certain colors. And I have friends who just hand me food packaging now because they know I’m collecting it. Actually there’s somebody at Tomato Head who works in the kitchen who’s been giving me some of their food packaging.”
One of Meadows’ pieces will feature a design created from a discarded onion bag; another, a sack of flour. Some of the packaging is evident – a handbag made from a ginger ale label or a belt from a cheese wrapper – other bits are mere moments of color, say a flash of gold from some Shiner Bock.
The combination of fashion and food is easy fodder for anyone looking for what playwright Edward Albee would call, “connective tissue” that might link issues or the artist directly with the works they create. But like Albee, Meadows eschews any direct connections to issues personal or otherwise.
“You just work, work, work and then you look back and think, wow it might mean that. But I’m not thinking about it. I’m just looking at stuff all the time, things that are fascinating to me – this manila folder is on my desk is full of magazine pages. I have ideas that I want to paint and create and sometimes I’m wondering why am I drawn to this, but it’s not the first thing that I think about. Someone might say, ‘well it’s like you’re trying to be deep with these’ but it wasn’t the initial inspiration. It was just that I wanted to go buy beautiful food packaging from the grocery store.”
Even so, Meadows’ work is thoughtful and thought provoking. And her fascination with fashion informs her work in multiple ways.
“On a personal level, I wake up in the morning and there are decisions I have to make. Someone was coming to take a picture of me this morning so I look a lot more put together than I usually do. But my daily question is am I doing this for me or am I doing it for somebody else? It’s hard to ride that line of whether I’m taking care of myself for me instead of looking for someone else’s affirmation of me.”
“Looking at supermodels, and the fashion industry in general, is so interesting to me because on the surface these women look very powerful and exude confidence because of what they’re wearing – but all the layers underneath that are also interesting to me. Usually the designer’s a man, usually he’s adorning these women – so then they become objects. I’m intrigued by what these women are thinking and, then I wonder if, at the end of the day, do they feel valued after and how much of themselves is still in those photos after they’ve been photo-shopped.”
It’s not hard to make a similar connection to food packaging – how often does it match what’s inside? And that’s just beginning of many ideas that flow from this Meadows’ work – the exhibit excites the eye and conversation.
Meadows has a broad range of work, in addition to visiting her exhibit at our downtown place, you’ll want to explore the complete range of her portfolio and find out more about her on her website: http://withbearhands.com/.
I spend a lot of time resisting it but I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I can’t afford any of that and I probably never will be able to afford it because it’s also inaccessible to me but I think that’s what interesting to me is this bag was free so I’m using free and accessible materials to talk all about a subject that’s completely inaccessible to me and most people I know.