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  • Writer's pictureMark Michael

Not So Plain Jane

Viewers may take the stance that Not So Plain Jane is a painting solely about Jane Austen, some may see the image as nothing more than just a cheap piece of shock art created for the soul purpose of sticking a thumb into the eye of a much beloved literary icon. As with all art everyone, is allowed their own opinion, however nothing in the aforementioned could be further from the truth. I wanted to create a portrait that dealt with the ideas behind ownership and appropriation of the author's image along with the history and quiet rivalries between the places who claim a form of possession over this iconic figure. ‘Not so Plain Jane’ was painted in early 2017. It felt an appropriate time to explore these ideas as August of that same year marked the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s’ death. There are several geographical locations who are eager to stake claim to certain stages of Austen’s tragically short life as her name and literary out-put is seen as the personification of Britishness, which of course is a very lucrative commodity. Winchester and Bath are the two cities who both hold legitimate claims and have the most to gain from Austen’s literary cachet. They each mark territory with plaques and museums which bewitch tourists to buy STUFF. Sadly seldom copies of the author’s works, instead the more easily digestible and commercially viable key chain or tea towel. Unfortunately the worship of Jane Austen feels very bloated and tired. I decided to offer an alternative perspective during the 2017 bicentennial celebrations, to look passed the conventional images of the author whom I have much respect. It felt necessary to take the image of Austen that we are all familiar with and hopefully challenge the viewers to see how a literary icon and her image has in some instances been simplified into a commodity for tourism. The idea around consumption and ownership of Austen’s image influenced the composition of the painting. I felt it was appropriate that the focal point of the portrait should depict Austen’s head presented on a platter, garnished and ready for consumption. The use of a fork in her neck Illustrates the marking of ownership echoed in the use of text ‘Our Girl.’ inscribed on the forks handle. The fork also helps to show the idea of dividing and serving up Jane Austen the brand.

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