In the Studio with India Salvor Menuez
Originally published in the WILD Magazine. ◊◊
We remember and return to the clear-eyed India Salvor Menuez because her beauty is of the disquieting and diaphanous variety, without a specific name. You might have seen her recently in our pages (in the inside cover of the WILD’s Bold issue, Menuez is one and three sirens from yesteryear, dressed in Nonoo) or in Olivier Assayas’s 2012 film about the fevered riots of May 1968, Something in the Air—the latest and not the last of her on-screen appearances. In this week’s New Yorker, film critic Anthony Lane wrote about that performance as if he was being haunted.
On a cold mid-winter night, I paid a visit to Menuez’s home in West Harlem, which doubled as a studio workspace for her and her boyfriend, the painter Jack Shannon. I walked in to an apartment carefully crowded with clippings in starburst arrangements, mismatched menageries, and members from an older generation of wonder-making technology, like tape cassette players and hefty television-radio sets with screens the size of business cards.
Enfolded in this lush density of images (although she considered it sparsely arranged compared to her previous home), Menuez revealed to me the girls from her recent series of mixed-media collages. The images had been culled from fashion magazines, including the WILD, and transmogrified by elaboration and reduction. Bodies were painted over in brutal colors, with contour lines blending into the corpus and then becoming lines again. One particularly seductive work features a contorted woman whose flesh pulls in opposing directions while purple brush marks lick the wall behind her like flames. This and works from other groupings, including what she called “loose-lined” figure drawings and small paintings done on projector transparencies, demonstrate not only Menuez’s faculty for color, but also her ability to manipulate hands and feet into vehicles of intense expression.
There is a touch of the menacing languor of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignion, and the wildness of Egon Schiele’s particular kind of Expressionism. Perhaps an even better ancestor to Menuez would be El Greco, or even Lacoön and his Sons. The figure in her works is a poetic construction unto abstraction; her exploration of the expressive possibilities of different postures—in this particular version of the body—is about surface rather than interiority.
In person, the petite Menuez speaks with an even-keeled eloquence so perceptive that it humbles. (She shrugged off my baffled and awkward compliment regarding her worldliness beyond her years, suggesting that she did not find her age relevant in our conversation.) She demurred the idea that her works perpetuated variations on feminism or self-portraiture. That her subjects were usually female was a consequence of accident and habit, since her doodles tend to begin with a girl’s face. “Repetition is a tool to pull at chance. We’re obviously not perfect machines,” Menuez said. “It’s the break within the perfect pattern of nature that makes something compelling or interesting.”
Images courtesy of the artist.