Renowned for her searing portraits of corruption, complicity, greed, and inequality in modern society, celebrated Joshua Tree-based painter Georganne Deen further explores this ubiquitous elitism and immorality in her latest collection of haunting figurative paintings, Georganne Deen: Psychic Violence in America, currently on view at CB1 Gallery in downtown Los Angeles.
This Fort Worth, Texas-native has been tackling notions of corporate misconduct and depravity since moving to Los Angeles nearly forty years ago. Deeply inspired by the highly visual nature of comic books and pulp illustrations as well as the emotionality inherent in the works of Otto Dix, George Grosz, James Ensor, and Francisco Goya, this accomplished artist, poet, and musician’s first solo exhibition at the gallery reveals her titular Psychic Violence to be abuse without evidence and lack of laws preventing it. We are familiar with these enduring attacks on our mental and emotional wellbeing through widespread stories of abuse of power at highest levels of society. There is a sense of hopelessness and despair stemming from the assumption that nothing can be done.
Deen has been making work investigating notions of narcissism, the ego, hedonism, and devotion to money for decades. However, over the past year and a half, her work has begun to take a turn. It is now primarily addressing those at the very top of the social system as she has become more outraged by the widespread indifference to this mind-blowing lack of accountability. With her eye forever locked on the truth in a murkier, more emotion-based society, Deen has adopted the role of court painter in this post-modern age, depicting the drama as it unfolds and morphing character flaws into physical flaws to make a point.
Psychic Violence in America breaks down this invisible trauma into three different categories. The first category includes portraits of prominent men. Deen first creates these portraits as clay maquettes and covers them in foil to further exaggerate their sleazy grimaces. She then photographs these busts and paints them on muslim, and finally adds their signature uniform, the business suit. One especially gripping example of this type of portrait is Lew Ranieri — Architect of The Toxic Bundle (2017), a reptilian rendering of Lew Ranieri, the man responsible for selling subprime mortgages to the American public and causing the catastrophic Recession of 2008. His slimy grin and eerie, mask-like eye sends shivers down the spine. His face is seen in profile and yet his torso is turned towards the viewer, reflecting the duality of his character.
Another equally unnerving category of this psychic trauma is seen in Deen’s historically-based fashion illustrations and society portraits. Oozing glamour, the women depicted here are dressed in their fineries. However, they all feature a monsterous characteristic, such as alien-like tentacles dangling from their noses or a zombified face. We can see these tentacles in CEO of Goldman Sachs on Trial at the Hague in Balmain (2017). Inspired by 1950s fashion illustrations of Rene Bouche, this painting centers on an elegant older woman with a Marie-Antoinette-esque hairdo defiantly staring down the viewer and her critics. Also through Deen’s zombified woman depicted in Closed for renovations. Thank you for your continued patience ~ The Management in Pierre Cardin (2017), we see that women can also be complicit in these wrongdoings. By portraying these emblematic women as monsters, she allows us to question their humanity.
Further eroding our trust in human decency, the final category of psychic violence in this exhibition begins with vintage found photographs. Deen transfers these delicate, seductive images to muslin, alters the compositions, and then adds polarizing symbols or logos. One particularly disturbing example of this style is Memoirs of a Lobbyist (2017). Beginning its life as a movie poster, Deen took this half-nude woman with her back turned to the viewer and scrawled the Exxon logo into her back, revealing just how much massive corporations own populace. The subject is also disturbingly headless here, but luxurious golden squares float away from the area where her head should be. This visual is perhaps implying that she is not thinking for herself, but is seduced by the trappings of wealth. Strengthening this assumption, she is also wearing impractical and ostentatious jeweled underwear as well as the highest of heels. Beside this defeated-looking seated figure are the faintest outlines of a standing man wearing baby blue loafers, a flashy watch, and resting a lit cigar on the woman’s head. She is seen admiring and longingly touching this clearly expensive footwear while the cursive caption reads, “I just loved those little shoes the short guys wore.”
Georganne Deen’s Psychic Violence taps into the paradoxical, near-schizophrenic state of being both the oppressor and the oppressed at the same time. These fictional and yet all-too-real- seeming women are both the victims and the culprits here because they buy into this notoriously unscrupulous system. They are guilty of complicity and apathy, just like the public. There is a hope of gaining access to affluence by associating with these powerful, but dishonorable men, but at what cost?
Emily Nimptsch is Los Angeles Art Critic for Riot Material magazine. Ms. Nimptsch is also a freelance arts and culture writer who has written for Flaunt, ArtSlant, Artillery, ArteFuse, and Time Out Los Angeles.