Icons, Idols and True Confessions
Bette Blank’s lively and often humorous work reflects her unique vision. Drawing images and inspiration from popular culture and everyday life, the artist invites viewers to see the world through her eyes. She melds iconic figures and objects with the people, places and things she observes in her own life, integrating the famous with the familiar. In Marilyn Refrigerator the movie star’s photograph is stuck to the door of the artist’s refrigerator, which is filled to the brim with popular brands of food; this painting exemplifies her uncanny ability to personalize popular culture.
Blank has a limitless imagination. She makes it seem completely plausible that Queen Elizabeth and Condoleezza Rice would shop for the perfect shoe in a suburban Neiman Marcus or that Frida Kahlo would eat at Blank’s favorite sushi restaurant. In the world that her paintings depict, established icons and idols all seem friendlier, even vulnerable, and so much more approachable. We can imagine ourselves having a conversation with Blank’s Marilyn Monroe, Sigmund Freud or Prince Charles because she makes them convincingly human—one of “us” instead of “them.”
Consumer products like automobiles, kitchen appliances, clothing, shoes, drugs and cosmetics provide equally worthy subjects for Bette Blank. She enshrines a vintage radio by painting its portrait in Radio (Frequency Modulation). Blank has recently been fabricating three-dimensional versions of these objects, such as the contents of her medicine chest. (Look closely and you may find Freud’s Prozac hidden among Blank’s own prescriptions and cosmetics.) A rhinestone-encrusted skull pays a tongue-in-cheek homage to the artist, Damien Hirst.
A pink Cadillac is both a well-known symbol of luxury and the ultimate “girl” car, while a Harley-Davidson motorcycle embodies speed, risk, and the open road and is the definitive macho machine. Blank associates both icons with popular songs, incorporating the lyrics of “Pink Cadillac” and “Born To Be Wild” into the backgrounds of the respective paintings. This inventive use of words lends a fresh perspective to her recognizable subject matter. Sigmund Freud is surrounded by his theories, Marilyn Monroe sings “Happy Birthday, Mr. President,” and Rocket Man includes facts about the moon, as well as lines from popular songs and nursery rhymes.
As a visual artist Bette Blank is consistently attracted by color and repetition, and she uses these qualities to animate her paintings. Additionally, she seeks emotional resonance with her subjects, forging personal connections with them. This emotional connectivity further enlivens her work and creates powerful new connections with her viewers.
Curator, Hunterdon Art Museum