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The Devil Wears Hope and Despair is a multi-faceted drawing. There are three separate components that are distinct in style and content, yet remain cohesive in the form of a dress. The top panel, covering the chest and stomach, is an interior scene. In the next panel below, a black and white motif. In an upside-down house, four women are kneeling to lift up a resting man. Around this are structured shapes and linear patterns. Other details include two stylized cats chasing a mouse, a heart with a dagger through it, and above, the title. The last panel of feathers is almost purely decoration, yet it remains stylistically unified to the rest of the piece with linear designs and the primary triadic color scheme. Altogether, The Devil is a feminine object. Although it is for evening, the dress is meant to represent something women have to wear, live in and experience daily.
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The title, The Devil Wears Hope and Despair, was modified from T.S. Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday” and is an important part of the concept. It comes from the third part of the poem, as the first stanza reads:
“At the first turning of the second stair / I turned and saw below / The same shape twisted on the banister / Under the vapour in the fetid air / Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears / The deceitful/ face of hope and of despair”.
I reference this poem because it depicts a struggle with faith. Faith and religion are family matters; significant to upbringing, even in a modern, secular world, they are ingrained in our social history. In the Western world, Christianity tends to vilify women, Eve for example, and restrict women to subservient positions. Even as the United States makes strides in equality, there still lingers an expectation that women will take on the role in the home. Even if a woman is working, children and home are still her domain and her responsibility. Sexism is reinforced by religion and the inferior positions women are given in society. The first part of the title, “The Devil”, is the Christian archetype, a woman. So, women wear “Hope and Despair”, “Hope” being the future and “Despair” being the past and the present. So the dress symbolizes a woman’s reality and all that home life encompasses.
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The first panel of the dress depicts a living room with a sleeping dog. I used deep, one-point perspective to create the illusion of space. In the center of the background is a fireplace drawn with white flames, which echoes the haunting white door propped open on the right and the white of the carpet. The simple white, red, and blue carpet leads the eye to a resting Greyhound, whose head is turned nervously to the right. The room follows a primary triadic color scheme. I chose these colors because they are associated with childhood, as most toys are decorated with primary colors, and convey an ambiguous message. Red can express strength or aggression; blue is calm and cold; yellow is optimistic. There is not a clear message in content. In color, there is an uneasiness to this interior space, but it is juxtaposed with the comforting subjects of hearth and home. An aggressive, saturated red is the overwhelming color that envelops the piece. Then, a white door is propped open, mirroring the white of the flames in the fireplace. I highlight these two aspects of the room to compare them. Fire can provide warmth, but can also burn your house down. Doors may open and reveal a happy visitor; likewise they may welcome a cruel guest. The duality of these objects reflects the essence of the home. Home can be safe or unsafe, heaven or hell. Your home’s identity is created by the people who live there. I purposefully excluded any figures from this panel to create anticipation and uncertainty. Without a figure to fixate upon, the room itself is waiting to be occupied and supply meaning. The narrative of the first panel remains ambiguous on purpose, so that the viewer can project their own experiences onto the room.
The black and white panel balances out the saturation of the interior scene and conveys a clear, simple message. It is a respite from intense color and ambiguity. Four thin, black and white female figures hold up a fat, sleeping man. This is a very blatant way to show sexism and the power dynamic in the family. The figures are contained in an upside down house, which depicts disorder. Below them are two cats and a mouse, predator and the prey. Those with less physical strength have less power, this is the life of women and mice. (The linear objects surrounding the scene makes it mechanical. The objects are meant to convey the mechanical way in which people live.) Most people do not overstep the boundaries that their gender has given them. Women and men are just playing the role assigned and expected of them; they are cogs in the machine.
An artist who has inspired me throughout my life has been Louise Bourgeois. I grew up near Williamstown, MA and would often see these giant metal eyes peering out into the horizon. When I was a kid, I called it the “eyeball museum” and as scary as the eyes were, their familiarity brought me a lot of comfort. When I grew older and fell in love with Louise Bourgeois’ Maman and other sculptures, I was shocked that Eyes (Nine Elements) was her work. Her work is always emotionally intense and confessional. She dredges up the betrayals she experienced in childhood and uses anger as a tool to break and create her work.; she is instinctual. I like to create work in a similar way, by letting my subconscious take over and seeing what comes out. The Destruction of the Father (1974) by Bourgeois is a sculpture in which she expresses her hatred for her father. Speaking about her image, Bourgeois says:
“The piece is basically a table, the awful terrifying family dinner table headed by the father who sits and gloats. And the others, the wife, the children, what can they do. They sit there, in silence. The mother, of course, tries to satisfy the tyrant, her husband. The children are full of exasperation … My father would get nervous looking at us, and he would explain to all of us what a great man he was. So, in exasperation, we grabbed the man, threw him on the table, dismembered him and proceeded to devour him” (55 Coxton).
This piece is made out of vague, bodily blob forms surrounding and consuming a table. While, in medium, it is not similar to my piece, The Destruction’s focal point is a dinner table. Like the living room, the dinner table is a centerpiece of the family – where the drama unfolds. In my piece, common places, such the living room and house, are twisted in more subtle ways, the message being more ambiguous and less hateful than Bourgeois’. However, her keen ability to express her emotional reflexes excites and inspires me to do the same.
Oftentimes, the truth is muffled because it makes other people uncomfortable. This is one of the reasons why I chose to cut this drawing into the form of a dress. Not only does it denote femininity and work as a metaphor for the female condition, but it also makes it accessible. When artwork depicts a complicated and heavy subject matter, it can be hard to look at for a long time. Cutting the drawing into a easily recognizable and beloved form makes the message easier to receive. Even more, the form of the dress gives many complicated ideas one, organized body. Bourgeois has given this explanation on her own work: “I am interested in finding an order out of chaos” (29 Kotik). In that statement, she offers so much truth. My goal, the artist’s goal, is to distill complicated emotions, ideas, ambitions into pure form. That is why I created The Devil, to say something hard in a simple way.
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