The title ‘Candy Coated’ refers to the gloss of the mass media and its mollifying of realities, constructing, influencing and mobilize current political ideas, social viewpoints and shifting focus from where our consumables come from in order to keep the current economic systems functioning sugar-coating societies darker side.
This body of mixed media paintings invites the viewer to consider many concepts and conveys these ideas in a modern twist on traditional storybook and nursery rhyme scenes, merging contemporary children’s culture through integration and juxtaposition of visual iconography from Kitsch or populist culture while involving my current environmental and social concerns. These works explore people’s preconceptions of stories, styles and characters, often invoking unease because the work doesn’t follow the expected format.
This body of work was created during Harriet’s first year of her MFA at the University of Ulster in Belfast. The work was first shown publicly on board The Belfast Barge as part of her 2008 end of year class show. The Belfast Barge is a 600 ton cargo barge moored on the river Lagan situated behind the Waterfront Hall on Lanyon Quay, Belfast City. The director of the ‘The Frameworks Art Gallery’ on the Ormeau Road, Belfast bought four of the paintings at the Boat Show’s reception for exhibition and resale at his gallery.
The rest of the works were shown that summer in Co. Sligo as part of Harriet’s first solo exhibition outside of art school. Candy Coated exhibited at Teach Bán Nua Gallery, Drumcliffe, Co. Sligo from 14th to 26th June 2008, with the opening reception on Saturday the 14th from 2-7pm.
Here are some photos from these exhibitions:
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Candy Coated A Retrospection
Perhaps the most disjointed work I have ever made, looking back reflects perfectly to me a state of changing personal circumstances and growth during my twenty-fourth year.
Candy coated was created during the first year of my MFA in 2008 at the University of Ulster in Belfast City center. I found the transition from my degree in Sligo IT to this higher level of education somewhat challenging, following a period of great successes in my art the previous year had caused in me a level of complacently and I found myself lost, striving towards something that had no clear direction and indeed my grades that first year were reflecting this. I found the masters much more dissecting of each stage of the work, I felt questions were asked of me and my work that perhaps I was not fully ready to answer or understand what the answers were. There was an urgency of concept that seemed important, the work needed to suddenly speak of something, looking back on my degree work that seemed so conceptually sound, suddenly I felt that these concepts went deeper than just what the work was communicating. There was the cultural context, of me the artist added to the mix, what the art was saying and what it was saying about me. A strange sense of responsibility or accountability was now there, that left me feeling somewhat exposed, but exposed as what?
I was uncertain, as perhaps in retrospect I was in a state of over thinking everything. The class critique was especially challenging, the work was dissected and discussed before I fully understood my intentions, the results and judgements a-mashed onto my own intent, confusing me further. My lectures told me “Don’t spend the year doing charcoal drawings” they wanted to see a departure in my work and encouraged me to develop my ideas in painting which was not my current creative flow, although I did have aspirations in paint I and this experimentation added to the challenge of this work.
Perhaps not my most intelligent artistic phase but one that was indeed my most learned, in me and my growth thus far as an artist. Perhaps the experience of having to clearly articulate what I was doing has made me better artist in the long run, but at the time it felt damaging like I had lost some kind of intuitive expression in a strange self-sabotaging desperation for self-awareness amidst a haunting fear of ridicule, fueled by my new found lack of confidence in my sense of conceptual direction.
The beginning of this journey I chose noble themes of animal welfare in modern farming and scientific research facilities, armed with dark truths of cadged chickens, over-milked cows and genetic mutation experiments on lab mice, I merged these ideas with popular nursery rhymes that nodded back to more simple consciousness of childhood imagery exposing a darker truth. The outlook of the world to me at this time was gloomy with economies collapsing and daily world news surrounding bank bailouts. The city of Belfast away from my beautiful rural home in Leitrim seemed harsh and hope was eluding my outlook.
Today I am very optimistic in life, but back then this work was unquestionably following a disheartening outlook, depressing themes spiraled around the work touching on social problems, modern values, sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, SARS a current pandemic sweeping across various places worldwide, Bird Flu and other scares and in the midst of all of these ideas was the prevailing mass media pushing unsustainable consumer culture and how this media was shaping our aspirations in this time of perceived chaos.
The result was a rather disjointed body of work reflecting these concerns through children’s storybook depictions of disenchantment absorbed in a personal longing for the simple innocence of childish ignorance to such adult concerns. I titled this work Candy Coated referring to the gloss of the mass media, and the subtle way it glosses over realities constructing, influencing and mobilize current political ideas, social viewpoints and shifting focus from where our consumables come from in order to keep the current economic systems functioning sugar-coating it’s darker side.
The concept Kitsch is also relevant to this work, the term gaining theoretical momentum in the early to mid-twentieth century, utilized to describe both objects and a way of life brought on by the urbanization and mass-production of the industrial revolution. Kitsch possessed aesthetic as well as political implications, informing debates about mass culture and the growing commercialization of society. The appeal of kitsch resides in its formula, its familiarity, and its validation of shared sensibilities.
Clement Greenberg the famous American essayist and influential visual art critic of the mid-20th century, emphasized that the “pre-condition for kitsch, a condition without which kitsch would be impossible, is the availability close at hand of a fully formed cultural tradition, whose discoveries, acquisitions and perfected self-consciousness kitsch can take advantage of for its own ends.”] Kitsch does not analyze culture but repackages and stylizes it. Kitsch reinforces established conventions, appealing to mass tastes and gratifying communal experiences. “Kitsch comes to support our basic sentiments and beliefs, not to disturb or question them”.
While the stylistic nature of this body of work can invariably be described as Kitsch, it intends to use people’s preconceptions of styles, stories and characters invoking unease because the work does not follow the expected format as the message contained seeks to expose the truth behind its Kitsch gloss.
A little insight to the some of these works could be of value in understanding my approach to these ideas, as when I started writing this, I opened with statement about the disjointedness of the entire body of work, varied and vibrant these works however share a naivety and spontaneity that is relevant to me and the way I approach new bodies of work thereafter.
The Elves and the Shoemaker:
The Elves and the Shoemaker is a merge of styles, a play on a religious triptych, a format of hinged altarpieces. In the development of religions simple folk were taken from their cultural surroundings into that of the church to sit in its glorious surroundings a method used to captivate people to its faith, I considered that today the most magnificent architectural structures were not churches but shopping centers the new Victoria Square in Belfast illustrates this with its impressive glowing glass dome akin to the cathedrals of Rome impacting the Belfast skyline. I used the popular children’s story The Elves and the Shoe Maker as a commentary of Chinese sweatshops where small children sew clothes for import to the western world.
I cast objects from contemporary childhood toys in ceramic, Bratz dolls boots and Bratz baby characters which echoed a sentiment of childhood, to give the illusion of intricate carvings on the exterior doors of the triptych. The Chinese in the painting translates as ‘rich shoemaker exploits small children for western fashion’.
Mary Had A Little… :
This painting depicts a Bratz-doll like character holding a black sheep that is dripping with a white shiny substance studded with shiny acrylic rhinestones; the character wears a necklace with the word Gonorrhoea which is a reference to a campaign for awareness of sexually transmitted infections that was running on the television at the time.
A Good Source Of Calcium:
This painting depicts a kitsch cow standing in a lake of milk with drops of blood in it, the title displays as a storybook page styled poster promoting milk referencing a 1970’s dairy campaign.
Hickety Pickety My Fine Hen:
Hickety Pickety My Fine Hen a depiction of a mutated three eyed hen laying toxic eggs that are being painted to look normal by a Bratz-y 50’s pin-up like character.
Little Tommy Tiddlemouse:
A light installation affixed to the gallery wall depicting a wooden cut-out of a dandelion represents time drifting away. A hyper-cute tearful mouse clings to the wind-swept stem suggesting vulnerability. There is an old childhood tradition of blowing off the seeds and counting the hours on the clock until all the seeds are gone to get the time. The lights in the seeds also represented, seeds as sparks of hope for positive change.
Harriet Myfanwy Nia Tahany, 2017
Original Press Release:
Candy Coated Exhibition, Drumcliffe, Co. Sligo
Killargue artist Harriet Myfanwhy Nia Taheny, winner of last year’s prestigious Taylors Art Award at the RDS student Art Awards in Dublin, is to show her first solo exhibition at Teach Ban Gallery, Drumcliffe, during 14th -26th June. Currently studying for her Masters in Fine Arts (MFA) at the University of Ulster, Belfast, Harriet invites the viewer through her work to consider many concepts and conveys her ideas in a modern twist on traditional fairytale and nursery rhyme scenes. She explains:
“This year during the 1st year of my MFA, I have developed concepts through use of materials and styles. Understanding how these styles and past formats in my work, speak to the viewer, I have been able to more intentionally use them to support my ideas.
“Candy Coated” is the title of this current body of work; this refers to the gloss of the prevailing mass media. I have merged childhood stories with contemporary children’s culture through integration and juxtaposition of visual iconography from populist Kitsch culture while involving my current environmental and social concerns. My work uses people’s preconceptions of the stories, styles and characters often invoking unease because the work doesn’t follow the expected format.”
Candy Coated exhibits in Teach Bán Nua Gallery, Drumcliffe, and is open to the public from 14th to 26th June 2008, with the opening reception on Saturday the 14th from 2-7pm.