Shoes! What woman doesn’t love shoes? I sure do. I have loved shoes ever since I was a teenager. Once I started making my own money, I was buying all the shoes I could for my closet. Shoes are the finishing touches to any outfit evoking feelings of power and strength, giving us definition and height. We can have our Cinderella moment of walking into a crowded room and all eyes are on us. What woman doesn’t love a moment like that? I mean, anything is possible with the right shoes. But have you ever wondered what kind of impact shoes make in the world of art apart from fashion? How are artists utilizing shoes in their artwork?
Interestingly, I came to find contemporary artists have a way of using shoes to express feminine energy and the female body. Recently on the Tambaran 2 Gallery’s Instagram page, I found Jeff Muhs’s 2012 Decommissioned Shoe and Amy Nelder’s 2013 Perfect Pairing. Both artists evoke feminine energy and the female body in their work through their use of color, shape, and technique. Despite how different Muhs and Nelder create their art, one being a sculpture and the other a painting, a high-heeled shoe remains the focus. Both contemporary artists use a high-heel shoe to create a focal point for their viewers, and their use of color and material in their work helps the high-heel stand out. Nelder and Muhs want their audience to pay attention to the high-heeled shoe, especially to how it’s molded and painted within their work. From their work, their audience will learn shoes do not have to be on a woman to correlate to the female form.
Jeff Muhs is a painter and designer from New York who began sculpting in 2011. At first glance of his Decommissioned Shoe, a black, strappy Manolo Blahnik-designed high heel in the middle of a block of concrete, the heel in the middle caught my attention first before taking in the concrete. Interestingly, the high heel is filled with concrete to the point of expansion, which helped create an hourglass shape—a shape most often identified with the likeness of a woman’s body. So, through the use of concrete and a designer shoe, Muhs created a statue conveying feminine energy. But what were Muhs’s motives behind this sculpture of only a single heel and concrete?
“My sculpture often employs objects that I refer to as ‘High Design,’ exploring concerns of taste and desire that inform our sensibilities towards the female body and design objects. I exploit them in a way to draw attention to the objectification of the female body and its relationship to the patriarchal lineage of Modernism” Muhs shared.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Muhs, discussing his inspiration for the Manolo Blahnik shoe in his sculpture. He endorsed how the high heels of ‘high design,’ and along with the female body, his sculpture explores the patriarchal lineage of Modernism. According to his website, Muhs is known for using many objects like shoes, “as objects of constraint” molded into concrete. Using concrete in his sculptures is his specialty. For instance, to create Decommissioned Shoe, Muhs poured concrete that was still hardening as it ran through the Manolo Blahnik shoe, enabling him to create the hourglass shape of the sculpture. The idea of the concrete holding the Manolo Blahnick shoe together references holding a woman together. Shoes bind the female experience.
Originally from San Francisco, artist Amy Nelder created Perfect Pairing in 2013. Her painting is giclee, a digitally reproduced fine art print on canvas that focuses on a pair of red high-heeled pumps. Centered in the middle of the frame, the pumps sit on a marble table accompanied bya half-full glass of red wine adorned with a red lipstick stain at the top of the wine glass. Also, surrounding the pumps are an abundance of opened and closed red lipsticks. The painting screams feminine energy through its illustration of feminine objects and the color red. Thus, evoking femininity and sexuality. Although there’s no woman present, Nelder has instead rendered the essence of a woman.
How do we begin to breakdown Nelder’s work? Just by looking at it, we know the pair of red pumps and the color red itself are essential to this painting. Nelder’s style of artwork is part of a collection she refers to as Pop Trompe L’oeil. This unique name means embodying “high realism infused with pop au courant imagery.” Through this type of imagery, Nelder focuses on items that enhance the female experience. She sees beauty in these items of femininity and she finds a story within them to paint. She honors what makes a woman feel feminine. According to her website, “she seeks to convey the subtle but meaningful layers of simple human interaction, to impact appreciation of the joys, and ironies, of our lives.” Nelder celebrates and appreciates the beauty and joy in feminine objects, such as the red pumps, the wine glass with red wine, and the red lipsticks in Perfect Pairing. All those items she painted are the many layers of a girl’s night out routine. Lastly, I learned before she was an artist, Nelder was an opera singer. Therefore, along with her domestic moments, she wanted to ensure her use of red was “rhythmic and lyrical” like music.
Shoes in contemporary artwork are seen as abstract and symbolize femininity. Like fashion, high-heeled shoes in art make women feel feminine, sexy, and empowered. What enables this further is the use of color and designer brands. From Muhs, they are a centerpiece holding a woman together, and from Nelder, high-heeled shoes are the essence of femininity. Being a shoe lover, I am so happy to see shoes in contemporary artwork expressing and representing the female body and energy thanks to the amazing work of Muhs and Nelder.
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