Friday, May 8, 2009

Spirits of the Secret Keepers

Above, Katie John

Oh, those crumbling, crackling, aging, molding doll faces! What does my love of them say about me? I'm still trying to come up with a concise "artists statement" about that. I suspect that it has more to do with rejecting perfection than embracing decomposition but perhaps there is no difference between the two.

My Secret Keepers series has been a way to look intimately into the faces of characters I've met along the way, literally if not figuratively. They are so named because these particular inanimate beings hold countless secrets. These dolls were loved, coddled, thrown, lost. They overheard quiet giggles, jubilant birthday parties, arguments and pillow-muffled sobs. They witnessed unspeakable pain and unconditional love.

Recently I began processing the photos in a different way. Converting them to black and white, save for a feature or two, brings a haunting interpretation. Solarizing them accentuates the crevices and gives surreal outlines to what has become more a personality than a doll. The reaction is immediate; Are you repulsed? Feeling maternal? Are you yearning for your own innocence or you do you simply wonder what the story is behind each creature? Because these images are more haunting than the original series, I call them Spirits of the Secret Keepers.

I've worked on this series for about two and a half years now and still love it. I'm always looking for dolls to add to the series, so please let me know if you have any you think might be appropriate. They will of course be returned unscathed, so to speak. One woman brought me a doll that she was holding in her arms like a baby. "Will you take good care of her?" she asked as if it were an infant. They are extensions of ourselves. At least extension of aspects of ourselves. For this reason I consider each one to be a portrait rather than a still life.




Annie's Doll:


  1. Well, you know I love the original series, but these I find fascinating. Some a little creepy, others eerie, others fascinating and the last one, elegant. Very unique indeed! Will these debut in Santa Fe?

  2. Yes, these will be shown at Review Santa Fe the first weekend of June. I agree there is a strange combination of eeriness and elegance.

  3. They are a curious combination of weird and wonderful - I love the idea of the stories they've witnessed. If only they could speak! At the brocante at Bastille on Thursday, I saw two separate paintings (19th-century), where a little girl was painted holding her (rather creepy) doll. I was curiously drawn to them (and wishing I had wall space to accommodate them), although I'm not sure why. Wish I could see your show in Santa Fe!

  4. Jane - I have to be honest. When I first saw your photographs of the deteriorating dolls, I just could not figure out what you SAW! Giving you the benefit of the doubt, I kept looking, reading, and learning about your love for these dolls. Of course every little girl had at least one doll, and my Mother was a collector of sorts, so I'm familiar with the personification. Your polarized versions however seem to bring their personalities to the surface. Maybe that's the "creepy" part? Thanks for helping me see.

  5. Becky, I love that you are honest about the doll photos. I know they aren't for everyone. In addition to some people just not "getting it" there are plenty of people who are creeped out by them. (I know that "creeped" isn't a workd but it works here.) At one exhibition, someone walked out, apologizing profusely, "I just can't look at these." But actually, that's a good thing. So I didn't sell him a piece but I did what every artists strives for: evoking a strong reaction.


Thank you for your comments! It's always good to hear what you have to say.