Two Vanities consists of two identical reconstructions of an Art Deco vanity; one bears a monogram that spells out the word ‘fear’, the other ‘envy’. As objects the vanities are mute and inert, the drawers do not open. Nor do the mirrors reflect; they have been replaced by six black and white paintings of hair, close-ups taken from fashion magazines. The work collapses notions of adornment and pleasure as they are played out in the domestic realm.
Vanity looks at ‘expression’ and how colour is used in popular culture to convey meaning. The colours I have used on the frames are shades of red, green, blue, green and yellow recalling for English-speakers anger, sadness, envy and fear. All have negative emotional connotations, as in for instance green with envy. Within the dark coloured frames I have placed black and white paintings of hair, women’s hair, endlessly fetishized in printed media.
Renée Van Halm thinks about painting’s long and chequered history, updating particular details that have resonance for the present. One of these is hair: in Vanity, a four-panel piece mounted on a black-painted wall, each frame contains details of a swirling tonsure. Outside the sculptural cutting of Snoop Doggy Dogg or Marcel Duchamp, these waves are a testament to pure painting, and the fact that when it was forced to serve particular masters, hair was its abstract signature.
Oliver Girling. Review: Renee Van Halm/ Carolyn White at S.L. Simpson Gallery, Eye Magazine, 1995