marlene mountain
painting series 21
'femail boxes and junk male'


femail boxes and junk male

the book (c) 1993

Every time I realize I'm about to write something--except haiku of the slightly radical feminist ilk which often just happen--I cringe. And I've given up trying to understand why all kinds of writing show up in my paintings. That's usually double trouble. Much of the writing would have been OK on a piece of paper. That's all that would have been necessary for the FEMAIL ALPHABET: AXE IS FOR A, but, no, it became a series of 26 triangular paintings which look rather alike. (Plus the title painting.)

The haiku in the CHAOSCOSWOMMOS painting series were just fine on one sheet of paper in the shevolutionary haibun SHETRILLOGY: AN OWOM, MAYTREEARCHY AND WOMOCREATIVA (a story with 'mad/up words' and 'wom words' ). But now they're translated into 'female' and painted iridescent gold (several times over) on big purple circles. The 13 CROSS WORDS got the point across (and down) on thirteen small grid sheets but I also have 13 black and white paintings.

And the WOMOCREATIVA series. The five paintings would have been much easier if I had cut shapes from colored felts and glued them to the panels. Perhaps what seem to be stars and phases of the moon in the upper areas of these paintings suggest that the circles and crescents below have something more to them than their shapes. Yet no one in the world--no one unless told--would know that they along with the triangles are 'words,' word symbols, five very minimal haiku on the phases of woman: of being born female, of menarche, of creating/birthing/giving, of wising up in age--turning inward, and of further change. Other words, information and feelings must come from the viewers' experiences when evoked by a nearby decoded haiku sheet or as in the gathering we had at Hard To Find in Valle Crucis NC. Otherwise the paintings remain odd-looking (odder-looking).

I often need to take a bit of information, a statistic or an ancient female design from a small black and white photograph--some kind of text or image--out of its surroundings and set it into another context. Maybe color it red. But as one who believed for many years in abstraction as its own and sufficient content, why do I continually find myself with painted words? Maybe I perversely want to take up space with women's words, ideas or comments on how things were or are or could be. The last laugh, however, is on me. I don't want to sell paintings so the space I take up--my two cents' worth--is not in the world but in my home. (I like to laugh.)

Many times I've longed to paint just to paint. To play with two-dimensional space. To use completely 'abstract' lines, shapes, colors (triangles, circles, reds, the iridescents are now too steeped in personal symbolism). To have one-painting paintings not in a series even if the content is related. I long even more for painterly paintings--not hard-edged ('I do not like them Sam-I-am'). Even if I do begin something loosely I edge into edges (imperfect hard-edges at that) as I begin to understand the material and often decide that painterliness would distract from the content anyway.

In late February 1992 I 'innocently' sketched a few circles and triangles while giving myself obvious but in a sense confusing signals: ''abstract,' female, painterly, assemblage.' But, uh oh, the first such sketches in boxes and even as jigsaw puzzles. Yet two more overall exterior and/or interior unity/uniformity 'things' that can and do sneak in to underlie one series after another. Then--a big uh oh--a 'vagina dentata series'!

For some time I'd been considering a series on two words. (1) Girl. (In 13th century written English both genders are 'girl'; 'boy' appeared in the next century, hmmm.) The many sexist and 'sexist sexual' attitudes imposed upon the word therefore upon the female (so too upon the male?). How girl is used to discredit women, young women too. Why young teenage girl? Is this redundant, silly, ignorant? Why young teenage pregnant girl? Why not let her retain her dignity from which she gains responsibility? Why not young women for those 13 (or of earlier childbearing years) through 19 years of age? Then girls for under those years, women for over them. Seems simple enough. But it won't happen.

{painting 4 A back; tear out: can men count}
When one hasn't watched television for some years it's quite a shock to see the incredible and continual violence toward females, particularly in the 'how to' plots. Recently I heard 'white girl raped by black man.' I tried black 'girl'/white 'man.' These aren't racist--that's pretty much taboo on TV. The subjects weren't far apart in age; if he'd been 20 and she (a pretty?) 35 the same line would have been spoken. Sexism isn't taboo.

When I first heard 'a girl's been shot' I promise I pictured an eight-year-old--not a woman! Girl for woman many times until I 'wised down.' Which do you think: TV writers/directors/producers (mainly men) haven't a clue their scripts are sexist or they know that sexism, even more than sex, sells? 'Can men count.' Just don't want to count, more likely, and want to keep certain women as girls, as objects, as separate female entities--for psychological or pathophysiological reasons? Why else 'beautiful young girl' and 'thing' for a woman who is twenty-five or more? 'Beautiful woman' allows everyone dignity, but again dignity isn't what it's about. Call girls et al now seem old fashion, i.e., 'artistically' less sexist than a model-like/glamour girl of male fantasy who must be overpowered, degraded, even snuffed, because her looks control him. (If you have a better explanation please let me know, I'm curious.)

Two kinds of girl--both now 'traditions.' 1) this separate woman, aka whatta babe 2) a secretary, receptionist, waiter, steward, teller, clerk--a first name 'girl' who works for Mr. Last Name Man; her knowledge, her person depreciated. Calling women girls causes harm even when women speak so of each other and with warmth. Calling a boy/guy/man/marine/sports player a girl is about the very lowest name of all. That in itself speaks to its status. A female is sometimes called a man if she isn't 'sufficiently feminine' but males have created many more 'interesting' names for us than that.

This was as far as I got in the February 'sketches.' For those who don't know me well this is how I art-think and why earlier on I was complaining about the trouble I put myself through for words. Longing aside I guess I prefer 'to do' content than 'to do' art. Stuff like this runs through my head and won't be satisfied until it's visual in some way. 'A girl's been shot' and {3 B front} 'pretty HER face' are probably not the last of the 'girl paintings.'

(2) Cunt. I love how Mary Daly claims, reclaims, enhances, reverses reversals and celebrates Hag, Crone, Shrew, Prude, Nag, et al. Why not be a Nag about the devastation to nature and to women who are nature too? These again become powerful words therefore powerful (in the best sense) women. Cunt is a wonderful-sounding, meaningful and dignified word--from it we have cunctipotent (all powerful, omnipotent). It's not obscene or slang, 'but a true language word, and of the oldest stock' (Michael Dames, THE SILBURY TREASURE).

I've discussed some of this in annotations for my one-line haiku book [from the mountain] along with 'labium' ('unaloud haiku' --mmsite opening) created August 1977--my first response when introduced to 'women's art.' Wow, Women's multi-layered, ever-expanding Art changed my life forever! 'labium'--visually spelled four times--was the primary impetus to paint again after ten years. This year I've combined the labia shape with the fascinating construct 'vagina dentata.'

{painting: 6 B front; tear out: vagina dentata}
Called the 'mouth of hell' by the church, vagina dentata is a universal and thousands-of-years-old concept. It's apparently a justification men have developed to express their fear (and no telling what else) of women's bodies. It's lasted far too long as a negative against women. Like the word Cunt (but unlike girl) I as a Crone claim Vagina Dentata as powerful and positive, and can even play with the 'negative' connotations: hey, look out, buster, don't mess with me ('connect the dots' on back cover).

Cunt per se didn't develop into a painting for this series (I did 'discuss' it in one of the 1980 cave paintings). Vagina dentata, however, the first fully-sketched idea did persevere and emerge as the last completed 'painting.' I took pieces of rusty barbed-wire to the September 12th 1992 exhibition opening at Hard To Find. We first looked up words (man, girl, wife, body parts, etc.) and concepts (marriage, family, etc.), their origins and definitions in the dictionaries, 'dickshunarys' and 'cuntionarys' I'd asked viewers to bring. (Of the latter, Barbara G. Walker, THE WOMEN'S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MYTHS AND SECRETS; Casey Miller/Kate Swift, WORDS AND WOMEN; Mary Daly, WEBSTERS' FIRST NEW INTERGALACTIC WICKEDARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.) When something sexist or old-fashion was read we'd boo and hiss or giggle at the derivation of a word (you'll never guess what word is related to pencil and means tail). And when good definitions were read we'd clap. Fun for an art opening.

Later we gathered to finish the last panel. Andy read the various attitudes of men toward women expressed as 'vagina dentata' from THE WOMEN'S ENCYCLOPEDIA while Wendy and Tine (with some coaching from me) created one from the rusty barbed-wire, bending it into the shape of my haiku 'labium' (almost). And hammering staples into the box to keep HER in place (almost, one part of the wire remains untamed--not that the rest isn't.) It was a wonderful act of claiming. (If men had a need to be exorcised this was the perfect time.) But I'm getting ahead of myself.

In late June I returned to sketching, that is, to words. Not circles, 'female,' etc. but words we see every day. During the next two months words and phrases came to disturb/haunt me--from some too silly to worry over (but I did) to those expressing the growing violence in the homes (households = 'housegrips'?) of America. (Our brains allow only so much reality at a time or we'd go mad.) As I gathered, developed, fooled with the content, a pattern, size, shape began to solidify--a box as in the February sketches. (Box here means the strips of backing boards are on the panel fronts.) I had no choice but go with it; like it or not I think a little more clearly when I've found a form. Some of the box ideas instead of hanging on a wall somewhat out of the way were two panels hinged and with casters sitting on the floor--definitely in one's way.

In the end all of the panels are standing two-panel screens, the fronts as 'boxes' and the flat backs as 'envelopes.' I considered various colors but as the content narrowed and focused white and black seemed necessary for a harsh no-nonsense look--though some of the material makes me giggle and Cronefully cackle. With such a 'flaw' in my thinking I couldn't resist a few iridescent gold letters on two of the panels--and some smeared hand prints. So with predetermined size, color, shape and number--six hinged screens, each panel 4 by 2 feet, twenty-four painting sides--I hoped I would luck into a way of presenting whatever content would persist.

{1 B back; tear out: do you}
Generally viewers think 'do you work inside the home' is directed to women--women who might not have the extra energy or time to perform their home 'duties' after their other work. A few decades ago when married women were asked if we worked: oh, no, I'm just a housewife, faculty wife, volunteer, doctor's wife, a mother. Later anyone with a newly-raised consciousness or a keenly-raised business sense learned to ask if we also worked outside the home.

Ms. (c 1923) became useful in the 1970s but a bit tricky; some women and men are still afraid of its newer implication of independence--BOO! Most societies insist that women be defined: Miss Single/Stage Name, Mrs. Married/Widowed, Ms. Feminist (?), M? Single Parent and/ or Divorced in there somewhere. Mr. Undefined, hmmm. Are men asked things? 'Hey, Joe, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine, Bob, he's a teacher over at State.' 'Hi, Bob, nice to meet you, do you work inside the home?' Do you work inside the home. It's a statement.

{5 A & B back; 5 A & B front; tear outs: gold mine gold mind}
Sometime before I was to graduate from the University of Oklahoma in 1962 I was talking with a professor and a student, worrying how to make a living upon leaving with a painting degree. The student said, 'you're sitting on a gold mine.' That was the first time I'd heard that phrase but I sort of knew what he meant. I don't recall responding--what did any woman say to such comments way back when? Thirty years later I have a pretty good Crone reply: my 'gold mine' . . . 'this seat already taken' . . . by my 'gold mind' . . . and even more Cronefully . . . you gotta get in line for that . . . 'standing room only.'

{1 B front; tear out: because}
What is considered when the titles Old Master and New Master are given? Did Rodin or Claudel with her ideas sculpt the Rodins? Who went mad and why? How 'bout that Picasso?! Do we care if OMs and NMs are jerks as long as their products are 'great'? What of the Artist's artist Wife? Of attitudes that 'disallow' in particular the very many creative women/geniuses? Draw from the nude, publish--never, vote, legislate--never, have a single-minded life--never. (What of the very shameful acts and attitudes against women in all his/story eras?!) And: hey, type this by nine before you wash my jeans/white collars and give me heirs, where're my keys? Masterpieces, indeed ('masterfragments'), and 'without credibility.' Perhaps 'post-matristic' interrupts the flow, makes one think, defines a loss in culture that the term patriarchy does not address.

{4 B front; tear out: you're}
Women and minorities--that's a 1984 STAMP [A WOMAN'S NON-COMMEMORATIVE STAMP COLLECTION] painting as one word. That such a term even exists! A phrase which shows the level of sexism and racism in America. I find it useful to see such a thing from another angle, to take it further: 'everyone but white men,' 'the real 'men'ority.' If 'he is the Absolute--she is the Other' (Simone de Beauvoir) then take that further: 'you're damn right I am 'the Other'' and further: 'wow.' If I'm continually told I'm separate from the 'malestream' I take it as a calling: Women's Art, Women's Haiku, Words and Ideas. A negative into lots of positives. It's fun, empowering, content-opening, highly-creative.

Have I mentioned that Deliberate Reverse Sexism is the subtitle of FEMAIL BOXES AND JUNK MALE? A style in its own right as are Pop Art, Op Art and Mop Art. DRS Art. I wanted this series to be rude and 'sexist.' (I wanted THE GREAT MAD MOTHER EARTHS ugly but to my dismay they're pretty.) I don't think I succeeded; to proclaim 'you're damn right I am 'the Other'' is joyful not DRS. Perhaps not art. Art for me, however, is a means to content and content a means to dialogue and dialogue a means to change. I always hope someone will be offended and argue--it's discussion and it's fun. (Maybe the silly sketches 'who are these men/mans' are sexist--maybe just sketches of silly 'mans.' I'll save them for another sexist try.) In 1977 FEMAILBOX was the first title of an unpublished haiku book.

{2 A back; tear out: family}
The relatively recent politicized 'family values' is even more patriarchal than some proponents dared dreamed. Family comes from the Latin 'familia,' household (servants and kin of the house'holder'), which comes from the Latin 'famulus' meaning slave or servant. Women and children were property (often still are) and damn good workers for no wages. 'Family valuables. You bet.' The real breakdown of FV: from ancient innate mother-right, mother-led groups to father-ownership, from natural order to invented; loss of female lineage by male overreaction to the knowledge of paternity.

{2 B back; 2 A & B front; tear outs: a real it does }
'Broken home'--some women have said their homes became unbroken/fixed when the breakers of spirits, jaws, ribs, noses and arms were finally thrown out--no easy task! What was she wearing when her husband or 'boy'friend (that's who mostly does it) raped or beat her? His ring, real or symbolic. 'It does matter what she wears.' At one point in the sketching I wanted a painting of only an 800 hotline number--'minimal' yet very loaded content. That women in America would even need such a number! More information, however, that half of the female population!!! might need one did away with any (further) artistic austerity.

{1 A back; tear out: women are}
'You guys' is so b-o-r-i-n-g. In England where it began guy is grotesque. Can we trust anyone who still says 'Man'? (See 'cuntionarys' for a surprising past of the word.) 'Others' must translate ourselves in until we no longer give a dang. 'Tomboy'--we are not boy-like when we climb trees. Energetic female is truer but such words aren't about truth but control. Where do we get these concepts? An easier, more answerable question, why? (I know.)

{3 A & B back; 3 A & B front; tear outs: poo-poo it's a girl}
While I was deliberating the child abuse painting ideas I heard distressing statistics that the leading cause of death among children is at the hands of parents over potty training. I couldn't let that go. 'POO-POO & PEE-PEE' might sound funny or confusing as a painting--but read the rest. Some paintings I wanted a bit obscure or hard to read at first but not this. Then diseases 'adults' can give children, abuse of their bodies, their minds. And, 'uh,oh,' let's not rush to congratulate parents in these days of horror stories until we see how the child is treated. When all cultures--especially all women--finally realize that women own our own bodies then it will be understood that babies/children/adolescents--girls and boys--also own theirs. 'Pretty HER face.'

{4 B back; 1 A front; tear outs: prepatriarchal malescholarshit}
'Prepatriarchal--what's wrong with this word.' It's spelled OK (so is precolumbian). It defines an older female culture by what took over; patriarchy interrupted/interfered with the 'matrilogical' way of life. It's been refreshing to see that 'malescholarshit' (at least I improved the grammar: 'on which it is written'), held dear by so many old-schooled women and men, has improved--has had to improve. Radical (at the 'root') women (everyone's vision improves when the old 'male-colored glasses' are removed) began reevaluating Great Stuff and valuing what's been left out of Great Stuff, writing and painting Our Personal Stuff, re-approaching Everything including what's between the lines in patriarchal creation myths and what's been imposed--some awfully ridiculous and mean-spirited theories most often caused by racist and sexist beliefs--upon anthropology, archeology and ancient art.

{4 A front; tear out: what does}
So many Cunt markings and sculptures of females in Paleolithic and Neolithic times!! All kinds of females and females merged with animals in pottery and sculpture (please, not figurine, statuette, Venus, fertility fetish) in the Neolithic with quite fetching marks and designs: symbolic writing. Reasoning more than suggests that Marija Gimbutas' 'matristic' (and not prepatriarchal, boo/hiss) more fully defines our ancient female eons. Dr. Gimbutas (archeologist and professor at UCLA) includes a photograph in THE LANGUAGE OF THE GODDESS of a small female sculpture with the head, breasts and vulva knapped from flint which reaches back some 500,000 years. 500,000! I cannot help but think that our ancient art was created by women, the self-informed. I see the 'matrilogicalness.'

Interesting, too, is what's not in these female eons ('sheons'). What appear to be male images are extremely rare on Paleolithic cave walls--and no male sculpture has been found. And according to Gimbutas only two to three percent of Neolithic ('Old Europe') sculpture is male. 'What does it mean that male imagery is absent for most of human existence.' A statement rather than a question. But let's ask, were ancient women artists sexist? I think this hundreds-of-thousands-of-years art phenomenon was in celebration of women's awesomeness, self-dignity and our uniqueness as nature, as 'shevinitys.' (Another purely joyful remark.) And tying it all together in THE REFLOWERING OF THE GODDESS is USC professor Gloria F. Orenstein's 'feminist matristic artists' for contemporary women who follow in this heritage.

For a time I considered incorporating envelope or box words such as occupant, return to sender, this side up, along with the 'art text.' The boxes and their other sides, the envelopes, instead are symbolic. The panels finally gotten I spent the last humid days of August (20th through 31st) painting coats of primer and 'satin black.' In various stages of black backs and black fronts they began in the kitchen heat and spilled out into the yard heat.

The 17 'tear outs' (reduced from 8 1/2 by 11 inches for the covers) which inspired some of the paintings and vice versa are from August 15th through September 11th--another time that ideas are sufficient on paper? The paintings are from August 26th through September 7th--with 'vagina dentata' on the 12th. Jim Mac and Lowell put hinges on the boxes and adjusted the lighting on them, but be careful because 'POO-POO & PEE-PEE' and 'brok-e-n jaw' are standing in your way. And look out for that 'gold mine' (and 'mind').


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