Ivy Haldeman (Sleek magazine #53 Spring 2017)
For the last eight years, Ivy Haldeman has worked from a warehouse in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint. Inside it is ordered, clean, uncluttered. In the middle is a wooden table, while on the left wall hang paintings from her “Hotdog Lady” series, an on-going collection she’s been working on for the last 18 months. Last year, seven of these images appeared at “Pulp”, her debut New York solo show held at Simuvac Projects. Although seemingly quite simplistic – cartoonish, even – Haldeman painstakingly creates compositions using a limited number of elements including the hotdog lady’s body and limbs, its soft bun, high-heeled pumps and a book. At once anthropomorphic, phallic and feminine, the figure’s features are slight, and her palette is restricted to cream, yellow, pink and grey.
Executed with precision, each painting in the series depicts the hotdog lady in a different pose – reading, snoozing, stretching, examining a pink foot. The repertoire seems endless; although each painting stands on its own merits, placed together they retain a sense of continuity, or even routine. The paintings’ titles such as “Close Up”, “Forefinger in Curve of Shoe Heel”, “Ankle Bends Under Bun”, and “Book Rests on Lap” are similarly prosaic.
Everything begins with drawing. Following her graduation from Cooper Union in 2008, Haldeman began sketching in private, reticent about the human form. “I was always interested in bodies, but bodies are so problematic to render,” she says. “Drawing a human body often could be really disturbing. There are so many problems. There’s physically manifesting a body that bothers you because it just doesn’t look good or feel good; there’s the heavy history of drawing bodies that is ultimately kind of fascist, or irrelevant to a lot of the questions we are dealing with in our conversations today. There’s also the issue of reproducing bodies you don’t agree with. When I see drawings of beautiful women I get really upset, and I wonder, ‘How can people even like this?’ I think an image of a beautiful woman rings of all the things that are oppressive to so many people right now. But then you can’t just draw an ugly person, because that doesn’t solve it.”
The Hotdog Lady series grew from this anxiousness following a chance encounter in 2011 with an image in an advertisement for a bodega in Argentina. “I had seen this hotdog with high heels and eyelashes. At first it struck me as a bad joke, but I found myself returning to the idea years later.” Each composition begins with a specific feature. “When I think about making a work, I think about individual parts of her as characters; so in the narratives that unfold on a canvas, her hairstyle is a character, her feet are a character, etc. All the action is coming from within these arrangements.” She then uses these elements in her incredibly phallic yet girlish character to tackle issues concerning masculinity and femininity.
“It’s fantastic because gender and beauty are codfying and confusing territory in real life, but I felt comfortable with them in this confusing body, says Haldeman. “How do you draw a beautiful woman? If you say ‘I’m going to paint like Rembrandt’, that’s ridiculous. But if you say ‘I’m going to express the deepest yearnings of my soul through the mascot for processed meat’, it’s more ‘Well yes!’ You do it like this – but she doesn’t have hair, she has a casing. That is what we come from today.”
It is worth noting, too, how the hotdog lady’s poses always entail a sort of revelation of banal domestic activity or repose, including what Haldeman likens to the time when the thing you would want to photograph isn’t happening. “There is something wilful about how the lady manifests doing nothing. [It’s] kind of my way of writing a historical narrative.” This is what makes the hotdog lady a political body connected with labour, something Haldeman thinks about a lot (for a while she was part of a Marxist reading group).
Ultimately, there is both a beauty and a perverseness to what Haldeman creates. This body, after all, is about industrialised meat with the frankfurter hotdog at its horrifying apex; yet despite this element of disgust, it also inspires empathy – she is elegant and vulnerable, perhaps a little fatigued, but content, somehow harmless and robust. When I say this, Haldeman exclaims, “But that’s why I love her! I thought this was good because I love and empathise with this figure, even though she embodies all the things I’m very scared about.” Surrounded by a rich series of works that seems far from exhausted, she laughs, “It’s funny having started with this hotdog figure. She’s become a singular entity on the canvas. But I have a lot of other ideas!”