Painting the Iconic 50s
There’s something about that vintage Hollywood starlet look that has captured each decade since the 1950s. Maybe it’s the sheer class of it all – that poised, seemingly effortless beauty. Or the smooth, perfectly coiffed hair and subtle eyeliner. From the ‘60s exaggerated wings to the 1978 film Grease to the rockabilly revival and Imelda May’s blonde streak, we hark back to the time when women were women in pretty dresses and perfect makeup. A time when women knew their place.
The Hollywood Starlet Painting
In Swallowed, I wanted to create a painting that had that quintessential starlet vibe. The Grace Kelly / Jayne Mansfield look with perfectly waved, platinum hair and and the demure pose.
Swallows were a 1950s symbol, generally in home decoration, but often as items of jewellery. I chose peonies and roses as a backdrop because they are both formal and delicate, which I felt was fitting. I wanted the pastel shades to give the whole painting a gentle feel. A pretty picture of a classier time… on its surface. The piece is in a similar vein to Bouquet, my first pure flowers painting, in that there are lush flowers in pastel shades.
Ira Levin and the Sinister side to the the Pinup
I’m a massive fan of retro films – Some Like it Hot, Top Hat, Gigi, I’m No Angel, Valley of the Dolls… so many I can’t list them all here. Since my feminist Odyssey* I’ve been slightly obsessed with Ira Levin. I’ve already mentioned Rosemary’s Baby in another post, but with this painting, I was aiming for a more Stepford Wives** vibe. I wanted my subject to have that preened 1950s housewife look that all the women in Stepford seem to have. We still refer to the 1950s housewife in 2020 as the woman who had kids, ran a household, cooked amazing meals and always had a ribbon in her hair. In an era where women are allowed to be educated, single, promiscuous hot messes, I can’t help but see the archetype of the 1950s housewife as a sinister character, trapped, lonely, swallowed by duties she has little interest in and not allowed to pursue the avenues that make her feel alive. And nothing sums that feeling up more than the Stepford Wives.
But we could maybe see Swallowed as more of a Betty Draper from Madmen character – perfect on the outside, but stronger than she looks and inherently flawed; the kind of woman who takes a double barrelled shotgun and shoots the neighbour’s pigeons when he upsets her children; the kind of woman who leaves her husband for another man when she finds out he’s been deceiving her for years.
* Sadly led by Germaine Greer who has since turned out to be a transphobic hasbeen who can’t see past her own ego and admit that she’s not a gender expert. I’m very disappointed in you, Greer!
** The original 1975 film, not the 2004 remake that entirely missed the point altogether and turned it into a really bad romcom.
Purchasing and Prints
The original Hollywood starlet painting, Swallowed, is available in my shop and you can also get your mitts on prints, merchandise and downloads. Saatchi is your best bet for luxury canvas and framed prints, whereas Redbubble absolutely nail merchandise like clothing, stationery and home decor, as well as more budget prints and greetings cards. You can also download hi-res, print ready versions of this piece from the shop and make your own prints in as many formats as you like.
The original painting is available on the website.
It’s also available in all kinds of printing formats and across all clothing and home decor products on Redbubble.
Luxury framed or canvas prints are available from Saatchi.