Illusion of Choice – The Art of Tanya Wilkinson

tanya-2The most recent works by Tanya Wilkinson are a series of half life-sized paper dolls collaged over layers of fashion magazine layouts.  They are inspired, in part, by the semi-destroyed temporary walls that you often see surrounding construction sites.  The walls are plastered with tattered posters making vague promises, partially peeled away; revealing fragments of older posters with more vague promises. I was really taken with one of these new works in particular.  Tanya was struggling with a title for that work and she threw out a few possibilities.  The potential title that immediately resonated was “Illusion of Choice”.  It was a title that, for me, tied together many of the threads running throughout her art.

 Tanya’s career as an artist was nearly stillborn.  She began formally studying art in college.  Ambient (window) lightHowever, in one of her first classes in painting, the professor was quite dismissive of her efforts.  For him, the only work that was “worthy” was abstract expressionism.  He characterized her piece, which incorporated quilt collage elements, as “very feminine”.  This was not a compliment.  The tone was sexist and derisive; and it led to a ten year hiatus from seriously making art.  Tanya’s immediate reaction was to seek out the only department with a tenured female professor. That department was the Psychology Department.  Thus began her professional career as a practicing clinical psychologist.  She is also on the faculty of California Institute of Integral Studies where she teaches Clinical Psychology. It was a serendipitous detour for her artistic career.  Her professional work combining feminism and Jungian theory/practice has deeply informed her art. 

Tanya Wilkinson  When cotton was King

After the decade long, self-imposed exile from art, Tanya’s initial artistic explorations were more about texture and less about context.  She, by her own account, “obsessed” with papermaking.  She made paper from every conceivable fiber possibility.  Stacks of handmade paper accumulated everywhere.  When a certain critical mass was achieved, she started to work with the paper in collages, eventually expanding her experiments into sculptural castings.  This direction in art was not really an accident.  Tanya was born without depth perception.  And, it is only natural that her artistic work would involve a physical exploration of space. 

About ten years ago, Tanya took an intensive workshop with renowned book artist, Julie Chen at Mills College.  Slowly content had begun to infuse her work.  The results were typically “one offs” that she exhibited in a series of feminist shows.  There she met artist and curator, Tricia Grame.  This “force of nature” strongly encouraged Tanya to focus on “the political, autobiographical and narrative elements of the Feminist Art Movement” that sharply define her work today.  

Artist BookThe exploration of the nature of the choices that women make is a recurring exploration in Tanya Wilkinson’s work.  In recent years, she has specifically investigated the place that women occupy in society.  Which of the choices that women make are fundamental? Which are illusionary?  In her “Female Personae” series, the focus was on women’s clothing.  In many cultures, clothing is specifically used to subjugate women:  bound feet and burqas.  However, even here and now, in this most “modern” of societies, women love their clothes, but their clothes do not love them back.  High heels injure.  Corsets and underwire injure.  Skin tight pants and dresses injure.  These are the obvious physical injuries.  Layers of more subtle psychological injury are reflected in the collaged mixed-media layers from which Tanya fashions her garments.  

Pieces like ‘Strap/Yoke/Halter/Hook’, which sports a skirt decorated with the names of menacing-sounding fashions or ‘GoodGood Mornin' Little Schoolgirl Mornin’ Little School Girl’, a sweet little sundress fabricated from escort and massage parlor ads, use rather blatant strategies to show the seductiveness of a persona that injures.

Women invest massive resources of time, energy and money making choices about their physical appearance.  These decisions create the illusion of choice.  Deeply ingrained cultural patterns obscure the real choices surrounding this need to create a public personae; this need for some sort of idealized presentation of self.  As Tanya points out:

Female personae are pretty things made of sinister materials. They are a feminine disguise that slowly and surely confuses both the wearer and the beholder as to the nature of the person within. Yet, the seductiveness of Feminine disguise remains largely impervious to this insight. That is the conundrum that my work explores.

 Tanya Wilkinson maintains a studio at the Noonan Building in San Francisco.  Her work consists of Mixed Media Paintings and Artist Books.  She will be participating in Fall Open Studios during October.  You can also visit her studio by appointment.  In addition, she will be a featured artist on ArtSpan’s Tour des Artistes, a fundraiser for the Art for City Youth program, which I will be co-hosting, next Sunday, August 16th, with Alan Bamberger.  Tanya is also a published author.  She is currently writing a book, entitled Joy in the Making:  Artist’s Dreams and the Recovery of Delight in Art-Making, to be published by Council Oak Books later this year.


One Response

  1. […] (at Mariposa)   If you can only go to one party all night, this is the one!  Cynthia Tom and Tanya Wilkinson are sharing a studio – both have been featured on SF Art News.  But there are 50 artists in […]

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