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Crimes of The Art

The Ultimate "Bad Girl Art" of Jessica Mieles

by J. Sanders Eaton

Susan from The Crime Series
Art Review - NewYorkArtWorld ®

The Family at Home
from The Crime Series
Women artists such as Karen Kilimnik, Lisa Yuskavage, and Sue Williams have, in their varying ways, made the post-feminist "Bad Girl" a staple of contemporary art. None, however, has delved quite so deeply into the pathological extremes of the girl rebel gone ga ga as Jessica Mieles in her strong solo show, "Crimes of the Art," at Nexus Gallery NYC.

Indeed Mieles restored some of the funky edginess for which the East Village was once famed with this exhibition exploring as the artist puts it, "the lives of female killers, particularly the deceptive, licentious freedom enjoyed even in the face of actual subordinance to the males."

Although Mieles does not specify such in her artist's statement, most of the paintings in this show - executed (if one will forgive the expression!) in Dr. Martin's dyes, a water-based medium with particularly intense color capabilities - are based on the women of the Manson Family. These drug-addled hippie girls, who fell under the spell of a charismatic ex-con of a Svengali named Charlie and gruesomely carried out his murder plot against the actress Sharon Tate and her friends, became symbols of a once idealistic counterculture turned Satanic.

Sexy Sadie
from The Crime Series

Mieles takes off from the sensational media coverage of their crime and their trial and adds a mythic dimension in paintings such as "Of Job's Daughters, Choir Girls, and Homecoming Queens." This powerful picture, its title suggesting how damaged children of the middle American middle class can become larger-than-life figures of tragedy, depicts three young women wtih shaved heads and fiendish expressions. Although the image is based on a news photo that appeared during the trial of the Manson ggirls wth their heads shaved to demonstrate their nun-like devotion to their twisted guru, Charlie, in Mieles' painting, they look like a cross between harpies and The Three Graces.

Even more chilling for its combinatin of evil and erotic allure is a painting entitled "The Clan", depicting five nude young women, their tresses still intact, huddled together like Valkyries. Here, there is a suggestion of the orgiastic events at the Manson commune, where paradise could suddenly turn hellish for those who allowed themselves to be seduced by its promise of drugs and sex.

But perhaps the most unsettling image of all is "Susan," a portrait of a pretty, smiling young woman, her face and the wall behind her splashed with blood - for it evokes the violence of the Tate murders with graphic directness. Linda's gleeful expression makes her look as innocent as a kindergarten kid covered with poster paint. The picture is all the more disturbing because it is beautifully pained in vibrant, translucent color washes so aesthetically pleasing that they almost make us feel complicity in the crime.

Also included are two acrylic paintings, of which "Twilight of Aquarius," a composition of figures in a landscape with allegorical undertones, was this writer's favorite. Still, Mieles seems to do her best work in the more fluid medium of aniline dyes, which lend her pictures an unsurpassed sense of spontaneity and freshness.

from The Crime Series

This is especially effective in a painting called "Another Night in Paradise," which provides fantasy relief from Mieles' grimmer documentary subjects. The picture shows a typical New York tenement with various shady characters scampering up and down its fire-escape: a pair of junkies gingerly lifting someone's TV set out a window; a woman aiming a gun; another woman, nude taking flight into the night with an avian grace that suggests freedom from the laws of gravity.

Although the scene contains a great deal of detail, it does not get bogged down in fussiness. Raher, Jessica Mieles' technique retains a sparkling fluidity that imbues the composition with lively wit.

- J. Sanders Eaton

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