Our “From the Pink Shed” hostess Michele asked me why I paint Barbies. The easy answer is, “ I just thought it would be fun.” But when pushed to consider the question a bit more deeply a few things come to mind.
For inspiration, I often take or find photos of subjects I might like to paint later. One of my largest photo files is the Barbie folder. Not just any Barbie, but the vintage original Barbie dolls that Mattel introduced back in 1959. For some reason, later Barbies seem frivolous and maybe a bit tacky to me, yet the original Barbies seem classic.
When my daughter was growing up in the late 1990s, I intentionally never bought her a Barbie. I felt that those unrealistically shaped, perfect glamour girls would be unattainable or improper role models for her. When friends or family members gave her a Barbie as a gift, I would go out and buy the doll a doctor’s outfit, a basketball uniform or an art studio in order to give her something productive to do, something that made her more than just a pretty face.
I think part of my interest in painting Barbie dolls (and other retro toys) is due to my 14-year career as an advertising art director. I created many a layout for clients’ products or services—hamburgers, soap, cameras, clothing. Paintings can turn objects into heroes. Think of Andy Warhol and the Campbell’s soup can. Painting a Barbie feels a little like creating an ad for her without the need for a headline!
Ironically, growing up, I never owned a Barbie. My parents gave me a Tammy doll with her very own carrying case instead. (I still have both!) I liked her and certainly had plenty of opportunities to play with my friends’ Barbies, not to mention Midges, Kens and Skippers. So am I now trying to compensate for my “deprived” childhood? My amateur psychoanalyst self says I don’t think so.
If I was to be totally honest —and I’m embarrassed to admit this—there’s a part of me that relates to this perfect long, tall gal. We both came into the world in 1959 — Mattel started selling Barbie five days after I was born. She’s long and lean and so am I, at 5’10” with a 33” inseam. She’s perfect, and I’m, well, a perfectionist. I’ve fought hard to let that label go, but hey, it’s a process! Who knows how many more Barbies I’ll paint. Perhaps she’s out of my system. We shall see…