From what I had previously seen of Sean Sullivan AKA Layercake's recent imagery, I knew he was a fan of the classic pin-up. Not that he used them in his work literally, but his references touch back to nostalgic images with a reflective nod. Sean's never been shy about his adoration for a beautiful woman in his work, face or figure; and as we've seen in recent headlines, that can be a dangerous topic for a man today.
The idealized girl next door swooned over by GI's has always found her way back into pop culture and pop art, but the image originated in the 1940's WW II era.
Sean calls upon this iconic silhouette, but also draws from the 80's "GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS" and "LIVE GIRLS" marquee signs from his childhood, growing up near 42nd Street in Midtown, Manhattan. A clear comparison that shows the progression of the phrase, "Sex Sells".
Pin-ups were largely a Hollywood creation, courtesy of the glamorous movie studios of the time period, but you also found poses in national magazines and newspapers. The magazine and newspaper references of Sean's childhood were another version of selling sex, a generation down the road. The back section of the "no longer in print" Village Voice contained a plethora of options only a (212) phone call away. The lines of "Sex Sells", and actually selling sex were being blurred more and more...
As one generation influences the next, the idea of the pin-up appeal became something very different to how sex was used in marketing and advertising, as time went on. If we are programmed to believe that humanity is progressing, Sean witnessed the women around him always getting the short end of the society stick.
Sean has been exploring the transformation of today's woman. How does a woman feel about the way she's been visualized to sell products, and make money for men over all these generations? He sees today's woman fighting back, and she is pissed off.
A model still poses, giving the photographer the shot they want, makes her money, but she's tired of being the prey of the situation.
For this latest project (a collaboration with fellow artist Sandy Cohen), Sean is visualizing the defiance women are expressing right now in the fashion world, in the advertising world, everywhere worldwide; fighting to be treated fairly and equally in today's society.
I was invited to Sean's studio space, way up inside 4 World Trade Center. This brand new construction is so new the cement and steel beams are still exposed. A place where one can begin again, and come up with fresh concepts. "I Miss Old New York", is a phrase commonly used by the artist, and creating new work in this space, brings up all of those feelings without even trying for Sean. Even creating new concepts, requires looking back at how history viewed the same ideas.
Models were getting ready in the empty and open space; dressed in expensive boutique lingerie, garter belts, and stilettos. Each had been assigned a brown paper bag with an apex predator painted on each side. The lion and wolf were scheduled for the day I was on hand. I was putting on my best "fly-on-the-wall" act, trying to not be in the way, but Sean was eager for my feedback.
I admitted I had a few questions. The photo shoot was only one piece of the puzzle; Sean explained to me, "Each woman has her own story, and each animal depicted on the bag is her spirit animal of rage."
To compare a woman to an apex predator is to be taken with respect and strength. The top of the food chain is likened to being named "King of The Jungle", where she is admired, respected, but still feared. He sees this as his vision of the moment women are having right now.
The private photo shoot I was so graciously invited to, is just part of a larger project to be fully presented at Art | Basel with the Oliver Cole Gallery. It will include original music composition with a vinyl press, video, and full media presentation. Check out Layercake Studios and Sandy Cohen down in Miami - show starts on December 7th, 2017!
With a preview like this, I can already feel it heating up for the opening!