Jonny Niesche
Picture This
STATION Gallery, 2017

Debbie says she doesn’t wear makeup, except when she’s working. The exception to this is lipstick, which she wears every day.

11:00 P.M. Getting ready for bed means taking off my makeup; lately I've been cleansing with Goddess of Skin. My bedroom is airy and simple—I have more windows than wall space. Around my bed hang a funny little Giacometti pencil sketch, a woven tapestry that tells an aboriginal story, a black-and-white painting by Tony Just, and prints from H.R. Giger. Sleepwear depends on the weather—and with whom I'm sleeping. I don't have any limitations except I like to be able to stick my feet out of the covers and my sheets to have the highest possible thread count.[*]

Debbie isn’t the content or the subject of, or even the muse for these sixteen paintings; she is the pigment. Debbie is a way back to surface; she is a key for decoration and an escort for style. Jonny has put Debbie in a hot pan and rendered her down; what is left is a sample of genderless light, short echoes of music and the gauzy edges of an era. 

The cynosure of these paintings is their sensibility, and though they might ask you to consider more than that, there’s really no need. Colour is enough.

Lost inside
Adorable illusion and I cannot hide
I'm the one you're using, please don't push me aside

I notice that Debbie is not her body. The only parts of her that aren’t real are the parts that she was born with. Her voice—learnt, ageless, and ironic—calls out:  

That platinum blonde is gonna be me
In a double processed luminous day-glo shade
When I get this colour I'll have it made in the shade
Oh, I hope I'm OK
I wanna be a platinum blonde
I wanna be a platinum blonde
Try to define realness in the face of beauty, and you will find you can’t. Because beauty is a behavior of optics, and all sight is illusion.

Colour me your colour, baby
Colour me your car
Colour me your colour, darling
I know who you are
Come up off your colour chart
I know where you're comin' from
Call me (call me) on the line
Call me, call me any, anytime
I read John Kelsey who writes of “contemporary art as an encounter with our own absence in the midst of the very activities we manage and monitor”[†], and it reminds me of the solitude of fans and idols. In fandom, the object of infatuation is never assembled the same way twice. The Fan—with the meticulous scrutiny of a car thief—strips The Idol down for new parts. Spotlit and blinded by the natural light that emanates from The Idol, The Fan sees only himself.

The tide is high but I'm holding on
I'm gonna be your number one
The tide is high but I'm holding on
I'm gonna be your number one
The tide is high but I'm holding on
I'm gonna be your number one

The cultural critic and poet Wayne Koestenbaum said, "Imagine that an artist, Andy Warhol, learned his art not from Picasso and Matisse and Rembrandt but from Lana Turner, Shirley Temple and his mother, Julia Warhola."[‡] Of course we learn artifice more keenly from women, who have makeup to hide under and perfume to mask their natural odours and clothes to change their shape and shoes to reach tall men and shoes to keep men tall and bags to conceal the arsenal of tools they are told will do it all.

In her epigrammatic essay Notes on Camp(1966), Susan Sontag defines Camp as “a love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration.” She writes of it as, “the triumph of the epicene style. (The convertibility of "man" and "woman," "person" and "thing.")”

“Camp is a vision of the world in terms of style -- but a particular kind of style. It is the love of the exaggerated, the "off," of things-being-what-they-are-not.”[§] I’m reminded again that, from the neck down, Debbie is invisible.  

Sontag dedicates “Notes on Camp” to Oscar Wilde, who said that “the mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible” and devoted his own life to the idea of Camp that Sontag made in his image.  

One way or another, I'm gonna lose ya'

I'm gonna trick ya', trick ya', trick ya', trick ya'

One way or another, I'm gonna lose ya'
I'm gonna give you the slip

Most people will tell you more than you want to know, but Debbie—enigmatic, but not mysterious—tells you exactly the right amount. She’s a perfect confection. Her sublimity is accompanied by her originality, which is preserved by her plainness: blue eyes, pink cheeks, the whitest hair.  Her whole face implies a state of imminence - because of it, we anticipate her completely: wide-set eyes, teeth stuck in her mouth like piano keys—more seductive than lips—and that platinum halo of magnificent isolation.

But I can’t read her for longer than a song. She’s not a tissue of citations. Her originality is fixed—free of all the dross that time accumulates[**]—like a bottle of Coke®.

And they will point and say I look very real
Yes they will
I guess we all take turns on the water wheel

This is Debbie Harry in three parts: hue (as in nature); lightness (the state of being illuminated) and saturation—the act of supplying so much of yourself that no more is needed.  

[*] Lindsay Talbot, “In Bed With Debbie Harry.” (Harpers Bazaar, Aug 8, 2013).

[†] John Kelsey, “100%*” in Rich Texts: Selected Writing for Art (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2010).

[‡] Ric Burns, James Sanders, and Ric Burns, "Andy Warhol: A Documentary," PBS, 2006

[§] Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp” in Against Interpretation, and Other Essays (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1966).

[**] Michel Leiris, “Songs” in Michel Leiris and Lydia Davis, Scratches (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).