High on mock-plinths, fabricated femininity displays itself in The Trophies. Like an unsettling dispatch from the past, frozen in familiar guises and performing expected roles – fashion models wash dishes or look away dreamy-eyed, go shopping or step out into a fantasy rainstorm, fake the ingenue or endure a beauty treatment. In their late teens or early twenties (N.B., they are contemporaries of the artist’s mother), these young women pose for the camera’s gendered eye in attitudes meant to mark the boundaries of the female domain.
Sue Johnson transforms remnants of American material culture into new images that can speak to us today. Created during the pandemic, Johnson found her source materials for The Trophies on eBay. Mining this archive of second-hand objects and found images, her artworks are threaded through the seams between painting, drawing, printmaking, and photography. This became a kind of self-portraiture, a fictional autobiography told through reimagined familiar things. The salvaged trophies were photographically documented and distorted to which the artist digitally married fragments from a cache of unpublished and long-forgotten negatives from 1950s fashion shoots. To heighten the trompe l’oeil of these uncanny objects, the archival pigment prints are mounted onto deep wooden panels, and then Johnson meticulously draws and paints over these new images with layers of metallic pastel, charcoal, and matte black acrylic paint to form a delicate, sensuous surface. Alluring and ambivalent, The Trophies make visible the unstable identities that characterize the contemporary moment.