Prix de Print No. 14: Makeup Myriorama by Kathy Aoki

  • Kathy Aoki, Makeup Myriorama (2015)

  • Photopolymer intaglio with watercolor, twelve sheets, each sheet 5.3 x 2.6 inches. Variable edition of 10. Printed and published by the artist, Santa Clara, CA. $950.
Kathy Aoki, Makeup Myriorama (2015).

Kathy Aoki, Makeup Myriorama (2015).

Selecting the Prix de Print was no small challenge. The piece that I selected was in competition with some other wonderful works, ranging from a sheet of wallpaper that might calm and soothe a compulsive list-maker; a layered, backlit display of all the pages of Webster’s Dictionary; a wonderfully composed etching and aquatint in black that seemed familiar to this fan of Chicago printmaking; an image of the American vernacular landscape that reminded me of Larry Stark’s wonderful Ice Houses; and a politically driven, in-your-face, photoetching and aquatint that appro-priately incorporates Molotov cocktails of molten rosin.

But in the end what stole my heart was Makeup Myriorama, a set of 12 photo-polymer intaglio “cards” with watercolor by Bay Area artist Kathy Aoki. The artist’s description maps out the essentials:

All twelve images keep the same horizon line and two other points of connection, such that the “cards” may be reordered again and again to create new landscapes. The total number of combinations from the twelve images is 479,001,600. Inspiration for the project comes from card sets published in the 19th century.

What drew me to this work was the combinatorial game element, the idea of a cosmetic landscape that incorporates what we might call the dark side of beauty, and Aoki’s historical reference to myriorama, a “printed panoramic view, divided vertically into separate strips and capable of rearrangement to form a variety of differing scenes. The term was coined by analogy with the panorama and the diorama.”1

Looking around Aoki’s rearrangeable landscape we notice mascara wands forming forests, a lipstick rocket, a Q-tip fence, an eyelash arch, a glamorous makeup castle,  “evil mascara ooze” (Aoki’s phrase), eye shadow palettes, Hello Kitty as a Mount Rushmore monument, and a mountainous bunny, a reminder of the poisonous, disfiguring, blinding and sometimes lethal experiments conducted on rabbits to test cosmetic products.

Scattered through the colorful game of Makeup Myriorama are issues of toxicity, cosmetic testing, animal rights and the control through advertising of teens and young adults. Aoki’s art functions something like a Trojan horse in that we let her material in because it is playful, puzzling and engaging; but once it has gained access, we may find ourselves overwhelmed as the seriousness of her purpose becomes clear.

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  1. Maurice Rickards and Michael Twyman, The Encyclopedia of Ephemera: A Guide to the Fragmentary Documents of Everyday Life for the Collector, Curator, and Historian (New York: Psychology Press, 2000), 208. []