Maggie and Bess in Their Best Llama Hats

by deniseliberi

I’ve finished the first of a series of paintings drawn from a ridiculously beautiful and absurd photograph found in the digital archive of the California Historical Society: LA Chamber of Commerce. I was struck by the photo in more ways that one – questionable animal masks, legs dressed with shoes emerging from retro bathing suits, and a line up of very unusual suspects pricked my interest. I keep returning to absurd and borderline tacky subjects and colors reminiscent of the over-decadent old Florida tourism era. I am enveloped in the idea of making paintings that describe everything, yet explain nothing.

California Historical Society: LA Chamber of Commerce.

My intention is to create a series of  individual paintings, showcasing each character in all of their glory. The two llamas (?) were, however, really begging to be together. This painting is a lot larger than I am used to working (2′ x 3.5′), but I thoroughly enjoyed painting in such detail. While painting, I kept thinking of a quote from Walter Benjamin’s essay A Short History of Photography  in which he remarks “even the very creases in people’s clothes have an air of permanence.”

“Maggie and Bess in Their Best Llama Hats”, Denise Liberi, 2012, Oil and pencil on wood, 2′ x 3.5′ x 2″

“Maggie and Bess in Their Best Llama Hats”, Denise Liberi, 2012, Oil and pencil on wood, 2′ x 3.5′ x 2″, (detail)

Process shots:


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I’ve also been spending a lot of time in the library looking at painting books for techniques, colors, and styles. No need to reinvent the wheel, right? Here are some sources that I drew from in the making of this painting:

Edward Hopper “Seven A.M.”, 1948Edward Hopper is one of my all time favorite painters. His ability to portray light, color, and contrast with paint is incomparable. I saw this painting in the Whitney as a child and bought the poster to put in my room. It’s now handing in my studio. I drew a lot of the colors from this painting for “Maggie and Bess in Their Best Llama Hats.”

Michael Borremans, “One”, 2003
His figurative paintings are so beautiful they make me nauseous. I love the description of his work in the book “Painting People” : “but while these works emanate nostalgia, they are also concerned with the strange possibilities of painting.” I was interested in this painting in particular because of its sense of multiple layers or planes in which the figure lives.

I am working on painting #2 of this series right now, so keep an eye out for the giant baby head lady.