Sunday, September 23, 2007

Jayne Mansfield - Portrait in Thread

I completed this Jayne Mansfield portrait in thread. It's based on a photo from the 1964 Best of Playboy, which I purchased in one of the last remaining flea markets in Chelsea (NYC Chelsea, not London Chelsea).

I used to buy most of my source material from the main Chelsea Flea Market which has now been replaced by a luxury condo - like many of the older and more lowbrow gems of New York City. This flea market moved to Hell's Kitchen, but when I went to check it out in its new location, it just didn't have the same vibe. Maybe it was me, but it felt more select/expensive and overall I didn't find it to be as fun. But go, really - any flea market is a good flea market.

Fortunately, there still remains one in Chelsea - The Antiques Garage - located in a parking lot between 6th and 7th Avenue, and 24th and 25th Street. Go soon, because like many good things in New York, this may not be here forever. I currently have a good stash of source materials to work my way through, but occasionally I drop by for additional inspiration. On the particular day I bought this magazine, my favorite photo vendor wasn't there, but another vendor did have this one issue.

I had never seen a Jayne Mansfield movie before, but I'd heard about her throughout my adult life. Associations I had: b-movie actress, beheaded in a car accident (this is an urban myth however), and Law and Order SVU's Mariska Hargitay's mother (did I mention I love Mariska?). I finally rented The Girl Can't Help It from Netflix. I recommend the version Netflix has, because it has a good 45-minute documentary about her rise and fall, and while the actual movie failed to bowl me over with her acting talents, the doc enabled me to appreciate her shining moments as a beloved sexual icon.

Jayne Mansfield was frequently called "the poor man's Marilyn Monroe" and unfortunately her performance in The Girl Can't Help It begs comparison to Marilyn's iconic appearance in The Seven Year Itch. Both involve questionable seductions of the weasly Tom Ewell. But no matter how much I like to root for the underdog, Marilyn is unquestionably the superior actor, and if you have any question about this, do watch these two movies side by side.

Above is the photo I used for my embroidered portait. While her cleavage or her waistline are probably her most popularly photographed attributes - she had an almost impossibly exaggerated hourglass figure (think Jessica Rabbit) - I think she looks beautifully voluptuous from the back in this photo. I was also attracted by the challenge of representing the feathery boa she's wrapped in, as well as her dropped earrings.

Did I get the essence of Jayne Mansfield here? I'm not sure. On many of my embroidered portraits, I had previously created a pen and ink drawing first, using the photo just as source material. The drawings are artworks themselves, and they convey (I hope) a lot of shading, texture, and personality. When I transform these pen and ink drawings into embroidery, I believe they are a little more quirky and emotional.

In my portrait of Jayne, however, I traced a xerox of the photo, skipping the drawing step. Overall, I think this embroidered piece is a good example of a pin-up girl, but I think I could have done a better job of conveying the complexity of Jayne Mansfield. I'm talking about the woman who won unheard of beauty contests like "Miss Magnesium Lamp," and who decades after her death is still inspiring angel vs. devil debates.

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