Move over Scarlett Johansson. The latest version of the Girl With the Pearl Earring belongs to Vienna-based artist and photographer Dorothee Golz. She talks to us about taking ownership of Vermeer's great master-piece, liberating corsetted women and why gender roles are just as relevant today as they were 500 years ago.
Hi Dorothee, thanks for agreeing to talk to us about your work! Your series of digital paintings have been receiving quite a bit of media attention recently. What gave you the idea for the project?
The fundamental question of my work is what is reality formed upon? A typical process in my work is the combination of different media of expression; reality is based upon our personal, historical and cultural background. In my digital paintings my perception of reality is confronted with the perception of reality during the Renaissance.
'Dürer with Girlfriend' ,c-print/ diasec, 180 x 143 cm, 2010
Can you tell us a little bit about your interest in the portraits you decided to use in your work? Was there something specific about them that worked well with the message of your work, or did you choose them because of their iconic recognisability?
In the first instance I chose these paintings due to their photorealistic quality. The pictures almost look like arranged photos- take my image of Girl at the Window for example: the photo pretends to be the painting The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Vermeer, just as his painting pretends to be a photo. In relation to Girl at the Window, historical connections and quotes are left out except for the head piece; she comes across as a young woman from our time. Her contemporary posture suddenly mediates all her potential, the directness of the glance and the familiarity of the contemporary face made me wonder how different her life could be if she were alive today!
And that applies to the other women in the portraits...Their stiff postures and chaste clothing of the original historical paintings give the impression of them being frozen and stiff, as if bound in a corset. In comparison to the emancipated woman of today, they had little freedom of action and a very limited range of female identifications. They had to conform to the social ideals of their time. The digital photographs mark the exciting moment when these women receive a truly 'free' body.
'Anne of Cleves', diasec, c-print, 125 x 95 cm, 2007
Renaissance portraiture really adhered to a prescribed criteria of what was deemed attractive in the 16-17 centuries, for example the paleness of skin, the elongation of noses and the ‘rosebud’ lips. Are you trying to juxtapose this with a modern vision of ‘beauty’ to show how much this has changed? Or have I read too much into this?
It is less about appearance than the different perceptions of women within the context of time. It is not my personal views I'm expressing, more the fact that I play with the stereotypes society places on women. If I take a head from a renaissance painting, I take control of a portrait which has been formed by the view that the painter had of this person. In the gaze of the renaissance painter the entire attitude of the society of his day is expressed.
In my digital paintings the women are presented the way men like to see them and the way women would like to be today. It becomes clear that today we have a much wider spectrum of possible female lives at our disposal than say, 500 years ago. We can 'design' ourselves but we also react to the ideas and role concepts inherent in our society.
'The Unconcerned'", diasec, c-print, 180 x 140 cm, 2007
Can you tell us about the process you follow for creating the images in your digital portrait series?
My work is split up into two parts, firstly the setup for the picture and secondly, the ‘retouch work’ on the photography. The face on the image of the original painting is replaced with photographic details, in turn taking on the character of a photo. The photo-realistic faces are then inserted into a contemporary photographic scene. The consciously positioned composition, the lighting and the semantic meaning of the picture's elements give the end photograph the character of a painting.
There’s a touch of the surreal flowing throughout your work, and as it’s the 75th anniversary of the Surrealist movement it seems rather fitting. As a student of art as well as an artist yourself, which styles and what artists have had the greatest impact on your own work?
You might be surprised to hear this, but it’s not the surrealist movement that influenced me. As a student I was very impressed by minimalism. Today I still try to focus on the essential and avoid unnecessary elements that have no impact on my statement.
'Margarete', diasec, 180 x 80 cm, 2006
Finally, can you tell us a little bit about your experiences working as an artist in Vienna?
It's exciting to live in Vienna! The city has an active and multifaceted art scene. Due to its history and social variety there feels a kind of tension bubbling beneath the surface - artists exhaust that tension.
You can find more examples of Dorothee's work here.