When I first saw Ivy Haldeman's paintings, I was intrigued by the uncanny nature of the elegant figure and her slender limbs, but was not able to understand the space in-between. Upon discovering the image of a "hot dog," the image slowly became more accessible as an image of the everyday; yet the images also became increasingly more perplexing. The mysterious connection between the image of a hot dog and the sensual character with her elegant posture continued to bewilder me as I attempted to find a connection between the two. The contemplative paintings contain an element of irony that develops from the subconscious and slowly reveals itself to a viewer. After my email interview with the artist, I realized that this hot dog woman is an idea of an idealistic dream that people who live in hectic, metropolitan cities long for.
In the interview, Ivy Haldeman mentioned her beginnings with this body of work 4 years ago, and expressed her satisfaction with just a piece of soft, white bread. I instantly related to this feeling: the feeling of chasing a dream yet also having debts to pay. After all, who does not want to avoid consequential news, and instead live in one's own world and chase one's aspirations? I began to grow envious as I looked at the hot dog woman again. The bread not only looked warm and comforting, but also provided abundant support and protection. Most importantly, the outer bread and the hot dog woman are unified through an act of self-care. Nothing is more important.
After relaxing, I slowly entered a dreamy state as I observed the hypnotic nature of the paintings, the smooth and effortless lines, soft colors, and atmospheric background. However, the subversively dark nature of the paintings looming is undeniable. Whether it is the physical state of the sausage, the pristinely smooth skin, or Ivy Haldeman's additional themes of empty suits and automatically moving hands, the paintings invoke a puzzling sense of apprehension and insecurity in a viewer. Perhaps this is the anxiety that the city life develops, or a reason the artist refuses to sleep; instead choosing to create the reflective paintings.
Although Ivy Haldeman's solo exhibition, Hesitate, at Capsule Shanghai has recently ended, viewers can see images of the work online and hear the artist's thoughts behind the work in this interview. In this interview, I sought to understand her own ideas behind the imagery, how she spends a typical day in New York, and her overall impressions of Shanghai as a metropolitan city.
When did you draw your first hot-dog lady? How did this figure come into being?
I drew my first hotdog lady in 2011. I found the actual drawing in a drawer just the other day. It's drawn in black ink on a piece of computer paper with shaky lines. It took me a while to understand what connection I had with this figure-it wasn't until 2015 that I worked on this theme in earnest. I was juggling several jobs at the time, so I would try to paint in my studio early in the morning and late at night. That is to say, I wasn't getting much sleep, and this image of a figure, elegant, cozy, and relaxed on a soft bun was a reality that I wanted to manifest.
It seems that the lady is always at home, enjoying her own time, playing with herself. Are there something about narcissi in your narration? Does it have something to do with this era of social media?
It's funny that you should mention that Hotdog figure is at "home." In the paintings, I've really strived to keep the figure in a kind of non-space. Real spaces are very demanding, objects are always calling out to be interacted with. Even the normal trappings of a home--a chair, a table, a floor, TV--are asking you to perform, to sit, to eat upon, to clean, to watch. I wanted the figure in these paintings to be undisturbed, and not feel pressure to perform at the provocation of other objects or people. It is a fantasy space of solitude, self-possession.
For me, this figure combines an upper-class lifestyle and a basic human desires, reminding me of the rich wives of old days. But I'm not sure if this is the case, or, what your take on it is. Could you share more with us?
I think of the bun in the paintings as a bit of a mime. It shifts identities from a piece of bread, to a couch, to a pillow, to a luxurious coat, with nothing more than a few gestures. I was very inspired by Marcel Duchamp's portrait of Rrose Selavy, whose hands draw forward the collar of a fur coat--such mystique! A luxurious fur coat does have a knack for reminding us of as you say "rich wives," or the glamour of early Hollywood movies stars such as Marlene Dietrich. The bun lends itself to becoming this luxurious coat. I like that the hotdog, an everyday food, would appear in such a garment. Perhaps it's aspirational, in an old fashion kind of way.
The hand figures seem lost in its mind during a nice wandering. I understand that it could just be a fondness of the artist to draw hands, still it will be great if you could share some thoughts about this figure as well. Is the drawing process meditating?
I'm always thinking about the shapes and gestures that people intuitively know. For example, we are very good at recognizing faces or discerning the particular gait of a friend. The shape of a hand, or an imprint of them, is a very clear signifier of human presence. In contrast to the hotdog figure, which I imagine in solitude, the hands are actors, performing a body language that doesn't necessarily come naturally to them. But they are good actors, so it feels fluid.
And, why do the business suits always come in two?
The suit paintings play with this idea of a single identity located in multiple bodies. I depict the two suits in particular, because, standing next to each other, the image has symmetry much like a face. At the same time, there is a boundary, and a kind of oppositional tension between them. The best thing about these suits though, is that they are happy to get to work without a body inside of them. You can send your suit off to the office, and remain in bed a little longer.
Could you describe what a typical day of yours would be like?
I take the subway to my studio each day, where I read the advertisements and speculate on people's shoes. Once at the studio, I have a large avocado tree that I have to water. My favorite days are the ones spent sitting with a stack of sketchbooks, daydreaming and sketching. Other days, I have to devote to studio management, ordering supplies, preparing painting surfaces, accounting, writing emails and such. Then there are the days that I just paint. It is a relatively meticulous process. By the time I leave the studio it is usually dark. My studio is located in an industrial neighborhood, and all the workers have gone home by then, the traffic has slowed down and there is a strange tranquility on the streets.
Generally speaking, what would be the things that bother you, or stress you, in life?
Generally, I get very upset about immanent biological collapse.
While hot-dogs are American, the hot-dog lady figure doesn't really feel American to me. I think it's the color. I wonder, what does being American to you?
It's complicated, but I do think that "hotdog pink" is somehow related.
I learnt that you have been taking Chinese lessons in New York, why do you learn Chinese?
There is so much Chinese culture that I want to experience. I want to watch Chinese movies. I love the writing of Liu Cixin-I want to read other Chinese authors that may not be translated. I am fascinated by Chinese art history, and knowing the language definitely provides insight. I want to talk to contemporary Chinese artists about their practices. Also, aesthetically the language is so complex and beautiful, I love studying it.
How was your experience in Shanghai?
I had never been in a city of that magnitude before! I am fond of skyscrapers, and the Pudong district with its interconnected pedestrian walkways did not disappoint. I was fascinated by the lilongs and the underground malls, both things rarely found in the United States. I could have spent all my days just looking at the street fashion-it is so vibrant! That is to say, the Shanghai art community was very welcoming and kind, and I was very lucky to be their guest.