In Sally Mann’s 1989 portrait of her daughter Jessie, the photographer depicts a young girl with bed head smoking a candy cigarette. It was a controversial image of “adulting” and a picture that stuck with Maud Madsen. The artist herself recalls such sacrilege as as child playing fake communion with her siblings using Nilla wafers, another pantomime of agency and the forbidden which felt equally charged. Madsen’s solo exhibition at Half Gallery, Dog Days, looks back at her formative years living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania from the perspective of her thirty year old self now. Turning over rocks near a stream, sitting on a single piece of Lego as a contemporary “Princess and the Pea,” holding her breath underwear: are just a few of the tableaus explored here. Water, water, and more water flood these pictures echoing the redemptive, baptismal and funhouse-mirror quality of our recollections.
For her new painting “Baby Doll,” the artist looked to concepts discussed in the book “Trick Mirror,” a collection of essays about self-delusion by Jia Tolentino. “ The author references Simone De Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex,’ specifically the thrill and sorrow of female adolescence,” explains Madsen. “It’s the realization that your body and what people may want from it can determine huge aspects of your adult life.” In this particular painting, a young woman is being held up by the armpits for appraisal the way one would admire an infant or even a puppy. The artist is tackling issues of infantilization and the push-me/pull-you of an age when we want to know what being a grown-up entails but haven’t quite grasped the consequences of this trade-off.
As a student at The New York Academy of Art, Maud first developed her practice of painting from drawings, which meant inventing a unique palette for her largely monochromatic compositions. Single colors were helpful initially almost as identifiers, they way we associate red with a stop sign or certain shades of yellow with a school bus, but with increased competency came a deeper need for nuance and complexity. “How do you paint something pink in a green light?” she asks. The surface of her creek in “Strawberry Moon” can almost read as solarized photography, evoking nocturnal reflections. “It’s easier to capture a specific time if the color feels right,” she continues regarding the muted tones. In the end, we are all left to question whether we default to voyeurism when recalling our youth and the struggle to find a collective truth in our becoming.