Monday, 31 August 2009

La Belle Dame Sans Merci.

If there is a First Lady of Pop Surrealism, then for me, it has to be Niagara.

Born in Detroit, Niagara was apparently a shy child who found an outlet for her inner self through art. She attended art college but dropped out, finding it uninspiring. In 1973 along with fellow art students she formed a seminal experimental noise band, Destroy All Monsters and in turn a whole new extrovert persona began to develop for Niagara.

The band formed at a time when in a parallel universe, not so far away in New York city, a music scene was emerging from a chrysalis, sired by the influences of the New York Dolls, the Stooges and the Velvet Underground. A scene which would soon dry its wings, and butterfly into the original punk movement. There, strong, independent women such as Patti Smith and Deborah Harry were also creating waves unprecedented by women in rock, not just through the medium of music but using their style, attitude and individuality also.

Niagara however didn't just create a unique personality for herself incorporating her looks and her music. She additionally steered the band's image by being responsible for Destroy All Monsters' sleeve art. In time her art would flourish and the characters she depicted would take on a life of their own. That life usually being a hard boiled, feisty, gun toting doll.

During the 80's Niagara joined the band Dark Carnival, with old friend Ron Asheton of the Stooges and continued to tour. However by the early 90's Niagara was showing her art work in the Detroit area and developing a name for herself, upon which she soon built an international reputation. By this time she had also met Colonel Galaxy, the man who would become her soul mate, husband and to this day, deals hands on with the day to day nitty gritty business of exhibiting and selling Niagara's art.

Niagara's body of work and themes have expanded rapidly, her trigger happy beauties shooting from the hip in more ways than one.

Sharp one liners that can cut a cocksure man down are the order of the day.

Niagara's more obvious influences, the often cited Warhol and Lichtenstein, are of course recognisable, but she is much more than a sum of her parts. Her colour palette is modern, vivid and vibrant. Her characters are not just frozen for a moment in time, like some snapshot in which they must stay for all eternity. There is so much momentum present that it's likely the whole escapade probably snaps back into action the minute your back is turned.

And above all, Niagara's liberal up to the minute agenda demands that her ladies are always on top, one way or another.

In the stunning Opium series, Niagara incorporates Asian themed collage into her work with great effect. Using gold and silver foil and Oriental motifs, spoils from shopping trips to Chinatown, to enhance dreamy eyed, dragon chasing girls, it was a bold and successful departure from the regular ballsy broads of old. But despite the more subtle mood in these pictures the ladies are far from being ingenue.

Niagara's women have seduced, scared, shot and sashayed their way around the globe. In recent years Niagara has had successful exhibitions in the UK, Australia, France and Japan. She also collaborated on canvas with Japanese born, now Seattle based, artist Yumiko Kayukawa. Yumiko also primarily paints distinctive signature females, but, accompanied always by an animal friend, they have a more forgiving outlook on the world. The two planets of these talented artists collided harmoniously to create a Yin and Yang like state.

Armed and dangerous as Niagara babes usually are, the artist never underestimates the power of the ultimate weapon - humour.

The viewer will most likely walk away from Niagara's work smiling at the cool, cutting, highly precise feminine damage inflicted on the most painful thing a man can ever have hurt - his pride.

(A big thank you to Niagara and Colonel Galaxy. I hope to post an interview with Niagara in the very near future.)

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