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Personified Doubles & Complementary Opposites

A few years ago, purely out of curiosity, I embarked on a journey of discovery and learning using symbols from Classical, Baroque, and Rococo paintings to decode the meaning of my own paintings and narrative artwork.

The book I used served as a guide, offering defined meanings associated with the artworks it featured. This exploration allowed me to view my art from a fresh perspective. One artist whose work particularly intrigued me was Giovanni Mannozzi. Mannozzi's 1635 masterpiece, "Night with Dawn and Cupid," presented female personifications of Dusk (Night) and Dawn. In the painting, Night and Dawn are depicted in a semi-nude, sexually suggestive embrace, with Dawn resting her head at the base of Night’s womb. The positioning of their bodies mimics the form of a spiral. Their characters serve as symbols for the cosmic phenomena, their intertwined bodies visually narrating the story of unity. The depiction of their embrace could be interpreted as an emblem of the equinox, a time of ultimate harmony, completeness, and wholeness. Through this lens, their unified form becomes more than just a portrayal of two celestial entities it embodies the harmonious dance of the cosmos.

This is a painting by artist Dawn Hunter that features Las Vegas showgirls surrounded by butterfiles and flowers.

Vegas Garden, graphite and ink on paper, 36" x 58", 2012

I noticed that I, like Giovanni, consistently used a blonde figure and brunette figure personas "coupled" together within my compositions. Seeing them as one persona that has been split, or disharmony, I saw this phenomenon in my artwork as a deeply personal mythology.

This is a painting by artist Dawn Hunter of a magician and his assistant performing a levitating act in a secluded area. They are surrounded by a black horse, two female figures, butterflies and dragonflies.

The Magician, graphite, ink and pen on paper, 26" x 40", 2012

Allegorical portrayals akin to Giovanni Mannozzi's representations of female doubles — complementary opposites — find a parallel in contemporary fashion editorials. Consider, for instance, Mannozzi's personifications of Dusk and Dawn. If one were to physically isolate these figures and position them within a scenario vividly illustrating discord, the separation and juxtaposition of these figures could be convincingly read as a metaphor for cosmic disharmony.

This is a theatric mixed media drawing by artist Dawn Hunter. There are two shooting masks on the opposite sides of the stage, a jumping businessman and showgirl in the center, and a portrait of a male figure in the foreground on the right.

A Dream in August, graphite, ink and pen on paper, 24" x 40", 2011

The metaphor I've delineated is prevalent in contemporary fashion editorials. Consider the recurrent narrative of the bad girl (Vice) pitted against the good girl (Virtue), both depicted within a subtly homoerotic context. These editorials often present models as 'twins,' their similar facial features suggesting identical identities. However, this seeming uniformity is punctuated by noticeable differences—perhaps variations in hair color or skin tone—thus rendering them 'fraternal.' In my interpretation, these personas, imbued with sexual tension and conflict, symbolize a single identity that has been bifurcated. Based on my preliminary observations, I propose that 'persona splitting' is a potent tactic deployed in fashion editorials. The models often represent archetypal feminine roles. On one level, the symbolic act of 'persona splitting' introduces a metaphorical division within time and space, severing associative fantasy from linear reality. I argue that this method operates on an even more profound level, impacting the reader on a deeply personal, psychological plane

This is an image of GIOVANNI MANNOZZI's oil painting, Night with Dawn and Cupid, 1635.

GIOVANNI MANNOZZI, Night with Dawn and Cupid, 1635

I posit that fashion editorials function in this intriguing manner: they present a world that strays from reality, compelling readers to identify with the presented symbols, icons, and modeled personas. This process gains an added dimension when the editorial showcases two models who reflect each other, with slight differences. This technique, referred to as 'persona splitting', psychologically bifurcates the reader's self-perception and identity. Such an approach incites a dual perspective, leading to a visual language steeped in dichotomy. This dichotomy encompasses opposing aspects: good and bad, blonde and brunette, light and dark, antagonist and protagonist, and so on. The editorial primes the reader's psychological response by delineating and splitting these concepts. The impact of this strategy is profound, as it fosters a sense of identification with both sides of the spectrum. Consequently, the reader becomes more receptive to products that promise self-improvement. This readiness is based on the enticing idea of preserving the 'good' aspects of oneself while rectifying the 'bad' ones by purchasing the showcased products or goods.

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