“I want to confront people aggressively,” says painter Emily Schadow. Her large-scale, acrylic and latex on canvas paintings feature cultural figures in loud colors, and bear ironic hashtags, such as #MCM paired with Bill Cosby, a #TBT of Adolph Hitler, and a #NoFilter depiction of Donald Trump.
The timing of Schadow’s artistic confrontation, which examines the intersection of history, pop culture, and social media, couldn’t be better: her solo exhibition, “Spark,” opens at Showroom less than a week before president-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office.
While Schadow is critical of the “monster” of social media, she is also plugged in. “I definitely participate in that whole phenomenon,” she says. “I am an avid Instagrammer and Instagram follower. I Snapchat, I use Facebook, and I think that’s the only way that I’ve become aware of its effect on myself and the people around me and how it portrays current events.”
Schadow sees social media as the way her generation digests current events, and finds it useful to disseminate information about movements like Black Lives Matter and the Dakota Access Pipeline protest.
“We’ve gone from sitting around the radio listening to the news to being able to go on an app on our phones from anywhere and learn about stuff,” she says, “but I think it also can be really detrimental and really gross.”
In a work titled White Paint Matters, Schadow depicts Rosa Parks set against a polka-dot background. “All lives” is painted over Parks’ eyes like a blindfold; “Matter” covers her mouth like a gag. White paint drips down the canvas like a hasty act of vandalism.
“That stupid hashtag #AllLivesMatter so quickly and so instantly was able to smash that flame of Black Lives Matter and taint it and give this equally postable and easily digestible version of the opposite of progress,” she explains. “[The painting] represents the way social media can be the cause of its own backlash, turning against itself to do just as much damage as it did good.”
For the series, Schadow chose the hashtag first, then matched the historical or pop-culture icon who represented the hashtag in a sarcastic or satirical way. She also juxtaposed the dark subject matters of her paintings with bright and uplifting color choices.
“I go big and I go bright because in contemporary art, shock value is the name of the game,” she says. “It’s a way to grab that initial attention and ease the viewer into what I actually want to talk to them about.”
She hopes to provoke questions in her viewers, urging them to ask themselves: What’s my opinion on that? Is my opinion productive and progressive? Is my opinion stale and inhibiting to social progress? What have I been taught? What do I think about this event that happened in history?
“My main goal in painting is to get people to turn on their brains,” she says. “I want to remind people of our past. I’m focused on the negativity of our past, because there have been a lot of things that our society and our culture have done that are shameful and embarrassing.”
She also wants viewers to recognize that what we refer to as “the past” wasn’t so long ago. The Holocaust and slavery didn’t take place in the Stone Age. With the incoming political regime “we need to remember that we aren’t so far removed from those events to act as though we’re above them, because we’re not.”
To that we say: #truth.
IF YOU GO:
Emily Schadow: “Spark”
There will be an opening reception on Saturday, January 14 from 5 to 8 p.m.