Lauren Mendelsohn-Bass Candy Coats Noir Cool
by Genie Davis
With vivid, rich colors contrasting with monochromatic images, artist Lauren Mendelsohn-Bass creates a hyper-realistic world that’s straight out of film. Using images and themes from popular candies, and contrasting them with lush black and white women, men, and couples, the artist offers viewers a wonderfully visceral contrast between a candy-coated dream world and reality. Just closed at Shoebox Projects, her exhibition Sugar Coated, combines noir style with, to appropriately enough quote a well-known Skittles ad, “all the colors of the rainbow.” Fresh and visually riveting, these works are true visual pleasures with a not-so-hidden bite.
Mendelsohn-Bass offers some history and perspective on her work. “People often ask my mom when she knew I was an artist – and she says as soon as I could grip a crayon. I always knew it. I’ve come to think that what makes someone an artist is…they question the process of what’s in the world. Things may appear a certain way, and yet – they’re not exactly that.”
The artists relates that she always looked at magazines and their advertisements as a child. From there, she drew her own conclusions. For her own children, it’s not flipping through magazine advertisements, it’s seeing influencers’ photos on Instagram. “I tell them that what they are looking at is not just a personal picture. It’s advertising, it’s posed.” She explains that the dichotomy between the what’s genuine and what’s poised for consumption by consumers is a strong theme in her artwork.
“I was drawn to 50’s advertising and the dream that everything was wonderful. All these women looking blissfully happy, when in reality that’s not the case.”
As to the candy images in this show, she says that the thematic element began when she noticed a “Good and Plenty ad where the candies looked just like pills…and then knowing that [today] they give out pills like candy.” And that consumption starts early, with doctors telling Mendelsohn-Bass that to get her children to swallow pills “You start with Tic-Tacs. You teach them to swallow them that way.”
Perhaps we’re swallowing more than candy or pills. We’re swallowing what we’re told we should believe, whether they’re political lies or the myth of perfection.
“Sugar coating things turns into lots of different issues,” she asserts. “But as far as my work goes, the colors of candy, people love seeing them, and it brings people in to more serious matters, exploring ideas such as what’s pretty on the outside might not be so pretty on the inside.”
The exhibition featured 7 large-scale oil-on-canvas works, and a wall of twelve, 12 x 12 smaller works on board.
The smaller works focused on one human image with one candy type, such as “Red Hots,” which gives us a beautifully reclined femme-fatale image in lustrous black and white; below her image is the steamy red hot candy box, helping to perpetuate the image of a woman as a hot and dangerous sweet. The blue and white halo of “Air Heads” with the candy’s tag line “out of control” surrounds a determined looking woman; while images of pink and white life savers, the wrapper broken, surrounds a wonderful, soft-focus image of a man and woman in a sensuous clinch. “Big Hunk” is even more explicit – a jubilant woman hugging her guy looks as if she’s won the main prize in the contest of life.
As with much of Mendelsohn-Bass’ work, it’s the subtle glances, an arched brow, a gleeful glint, and other small gestures that convey the internal thoughts behind external action.
Among her larger works, “Good and Plenty” pill-like candies are mixed with actual pills as they rain down on a pink umbrella over two women. One appears apprehensive, the other delighted. In full color, it somehow manages to evoke a deeper sadness, the overall pinkness of the piece along with a black background makes the world seem as if the “medication” raining down on the women has made the world less bright. “Ring Pop the Question,” on the other hand, is a more colorful experience – those ring pops are candy jewels. The black and white image of man and woman behind them is highly sensual – many of the figures in Mendelsohn-Bass’ work have a sensuous feel – the woman is caressing that ring, that prize of marriage. “Bang Bang” gives us target-like rainbow lollipops, a pink cloud of cotton candy, and two women shooting at each other, while a man – the only black and white figure in the piece – takes aim at us.
These works encourage us to uncover the clues Mendelsohn-Bass leaves as to the deeper meaning beneath the oh-so-appealing surface. Her work here is a series of stories, representing relationships and psychology, and as such, she reveals a rich interior life, and a tantalizing glance at what is really going on beneath life’s wrapper. Now that’s sweet.