Opening May 7th at MOAH, the Museum of Art & History in Lancaster, contemporary artist Jane Szabo’s Self Portrait as Self Investigation is one of four solo exhibitions that comprise the museum’s Artist as Subject.
Szabo’s fine art photography blends sculpture, installation art, and photography with fashion itself through her series of portraits, which go far beyond what is typically thought of as self-portraiture. She does not appear in her photographs physically, although her presence is nonetheless very much felt. Instead, Szabo’s self-portraiture is all about the dress. The artist photographs dresses. But these are no ordinary dresses, rather they are constructs, artworks designed as dresses that in a beautiful, evocative way define the person they are meant to clothe, the artist – and the viewer.
The garments themselves are stunningly beautiful, crafted by Szabo out of everyday objects such as road maps, coffee filters, cellophane, even sample filters for lighting gels. She explains “They suggest a persona and become a stand-in for myself, who I am, am not, and who I wish to be.”
Each of her works seem alive with light and form. The pieces are playful, using the human form – or the dresses that could be hung upon it – as sculpture. Her photography is vivid and representational, yet her somewhat surreal fashions create an almost otherworldly look. Her dresses could be the carapaces of creatures from a different planet – or the external “skin” we shed, the covering that hides, or, like Egyptian sarcophogi, represents, the spirit within.
Szabo’s subjects are each a still life, a study in a garment that clothes the spirit rather than the body. And yet, though clearly unable to “move” on their own, her photography is hardly still. Rather, it creates a breathtaking illusion, as if the dresses could suddenly start dancing, and take on a ghostly life of their own.
Recently, the artist has begun, in her own words, to “push the envelope” on her dress photographs. “I’m engaging in different ways than I have in the past. I don’t want to get too formulaic with the dress ingredient.”
Take as an example the dress made from sample filters for different lighting gels available for use in the film industry. From these, Szabo created a dress that is part rainbow, part stained glass, a multicolored, transparent “skin” that captures light and reflects it. The dress as a window to the soul, perhaps.
“I love the out of focus, cast light projection behind the dress. It was projected on the wall behind the dress and photographed using a single exposure,” the artist relates.
As one of four artists interpreting self-portraiture at MOAH, Szabo has long been intent on exposing the inner through the outer. If a raiment is the wrapping paper, what is inside? And who says you can’t literally wear your heart – and soul – on your sleeve? Szabo definitely does, expressing self-identity, female identity, and society’s role in creating both personal and gender image.
Her photographic narrative is highly personal, expressing the dichotomy between self-imposed structure, societal structures, and the nearly indefinable yet unquenchable spirit of true self. One could not find a more experiential form of self-portrait for both viewer and subject.
Along with the dresses themselves, Szabo pairs related objects with the dresses, creating a complete story with compelling connections between society, the individual, and self.
She pushes the boundaries of self-reflection beyond a simple gaze at her reflected image into the core of her being, drawing her portraits from what she describes as her own mythology, yet letting the images take on a life and story of their own, encouraging viewers to “try on” one of the personas she depicts.
Her photographic compositions have the formal construction and delicate appearance of paintings, while maintaining the illusion that they’re ready to swirl into motion. Both aspects of Szabo’s work reflect her background as a painter and installation artist, as well as a career that included creating custom props and scenery.
The Los Angeles based artist has had work included in exhibitions at the Oceanside Museum of Art, the Griffin Museum of Photography, Colorado Center for Photographic Arts, PhotoSpiva, San Diego Art Institute, The Los Angeles Center for Photography, Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, and Gallery 825 in Los Angeles. Her series Sense of Self was featured in a solo show at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art in 2014, and earlier this year, as a solo exhibition, Investigating Self at the Yuma Fine Art Center in Arizona.
Along with Szabo’s work, MOAH’s “Artist as Subject” features solo exhibitions by Nataša Prosenc Stearns, Kent Anderson Butler, Eric Minh Swenson, Rebecca Campbell and a retrospective on local artist Andrew Frieder.
Artist as Subject
Lancaster Museum of Art and History – MOAH
665 W Lancaster Blvd, Lancaster Ca 93534
Public opening reception May 7, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.; the exhibition runs through July 24, regular museum hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., until 8 p.m. on Thursday. The museum is closed on Mondays.
- Genie Davis; Photos by Jack Burke, and provided by artist