​Zarina of Hollywood

The Venus Project


​Artist's note:

The Venus Project grew organically from a hobby of painting in Victoria's Secret catalogs that began in 2010, after I found one in the recycle bin and was horrified to see how emaciated the models looked compared to the ones I remembered seeing as a teenager. One of these unnaturally skinny (starved + photoshopped) images was being used to advertise a bra "guaranteed to add up to two sizes," and it struck me as surreal how society demands that women be as small as possible, except for specific body parts. I began painting on the pages of the catalog with gouache, an opaque watercolor traditionally used in fashion design, tracing the shape of each skeletal form and filling in the "empty space" around each woman's figure, visually adding mass while retaining her essential shape. The paper, not intended to carry a load of wet paint, stretched and wrinkled, bringing a delightful "cellulite" effect to the artificially smooth surface. As new catalogs continued to turn up in the bin, a pile grew on my desk that I would leaf through and paint in whenever I had some time to kill.

This hobby was not only amusing, but cathartic, as I had recently lost over 100 pounds after having a baby and taking up dance lessons. Following a lifelong eating disorder, this sudden transformation into (literally) a hot mama, and the subsequent about face in the way I was treated by the general public, turned my world upside down, and not in a good way. After years of therapy my art was suffering. Although no longer a perfectionist, I was still having trouble engaging in art therapy because my overly experienced inner critic kept getting in the way. In desperation, I turned to oil paint, a medium I'd rejected in early childhood in spite of having shown promise as a young painter. While my paintings at this stage were experimental, mostly abstract expressions of my emotional process, my "anti-photoshop" catalog pages were a direct rebuke of the perfectionism I felt the world has always demanded of me as a woman and an artist.

When a friend offered me her garage to use as an art studio, I was eager to inaugurate my new space,   and thought of the traditional artist's muse, the nude model. Not knowing anyone willing to disrobe for the sake of art, I turned to my altered catalog pages for inspiration. After a few months I noticed that an unconscious pattern had taken hold. My new space included a backyard, and I had started to preface each painting session by walking around the garden as a kind of moving meditation, followed by putting on music and dancing to loosen up further, before drawing with charcoal onto the canvas in a dynamic and gloriously messy gesture based on the pose of the model in the picture. After that I would go home, think about the gesture, and do a quick sketch reflecting it in my notebook. The next day, I would return to the studio to paint, and find things emerging that I didn't necessarily expect, sometimes manifesting as thoughts or ideas, sometimes as images in the paint itself, such as faces or doors that showed up when the light hit the canvas just so. Once I became conscious of the pattern, it became almost a ritual.

Over the next few years, I began to come across articles regarding the growing body positivity movement, and especially artists who were using photoshop to retouch ads or popular cartoon characters to give them more realistic body proportions. Meanwhile, just as I had begun to consciously address the lack of diversity in the catalogs, I noticed small differences in their choice of models and the way they were portrayed that seemed to be a reaction to the growing backlash against oppressive cultural norms. Then all of a sudden, the company announced they were ceasing publication of their once iconic catalogs. The world is already moving past unrealistic body expectations and rejecting their use as a tool of oppression for.

Named after one of my early oil paintings, a "Venus" painted at the height of my struggle to come to terms with my own "missing space," this series is dedicated to every woman's right to take up as much space as she needs to claim her dignity and worth as a human being.

 ©2018 Zarina Silverman. All Rights Reserved.