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PROFILE: KEITH EDMIER
Rachel Taylor

Childhood never leaves us. The particularities of the time and place in which we grow up are branded deep in our psyches, shaping adult desire. Keith Edmier dropped out of art school to work in Hollywood, producing special effects for horror movies. Before that, in his teens, he had a part-time job in a dental lab, where he first came into contact with the pink dental acrylic that has become one of his trademark materials. These facts help to provide a context for the form his work has taken; the content of his uncanny figurative sculptures, however, has its roots deeper in his autobiography, in his early years growing up in the Chicago suburbs in the 1970s. His unsettling sculptures revisit a í70s suburban America of the mind.





Edmierís work celebrates popular cultureís intrusion into our dreams, the way media images insinuate themselves into our unconscious like uninvited guests. The cast of characters that populate his artwork are drawn from personal history (family members, school friends) and from collective memory (celebrities of the day, victims of newsworthy tragedies, people who might have graced the pages of supermarket tabloids). Edmier explores how, in the media age, Ďrealí people can take on the psychological weight of celebrities while famous faces can be as comforting or as alienating as family.

Like confessional poetry his work proves the adage that the more personal the story the more universal its appeal. His take on memorial statuary, Emil Dobbelstein and Henry J. Drope, 1944 (2000), casts his grandfathers in the role normally reserved for the apocryphal unknown soldier. The two men are flatteringly pictured as they were in their prime, handsome and brave in military uniform. In Edmierís sculpture it is forever 1944, before Emil committed suicide and Henry grew into the old man his grandson knew. We are invited to put knowingness aside and look at them through the rose-tinted view of a young boyís admiration.

The novelist Jeffrey Eugenides traces comparably uncynical territory. A fellow child of the American Midwest, Eugenides is similarly brazen about confronting the sentimental. The Virgin Suicides (1993), his languidly charged love letter to lost youth, conjures the fierce passions of early adolescence from the safe distance of middle age. Edmierís Jill Peters (1997) could be one of the novelís well-loved, ill-fated Lisbon girls; she even has their golden hair. If Edmierís grandfathers are bronze heroes, Jill Peters is a hazy waxworks dream girl. As pure and white as the hill of snow on which she stands so awkwardly, Jill is a careworn memory bleached by time. The object of Edmierís schoolboy affections, she is preserved in virginal white, her eternally blank features ripe for projection. She is not a girl so much as the faded recollection of a girl, the portrait of a crush.





Itís easy to see why the young Edmier was smitten: Jill sports a perfect all-American hairstyle, feathered like Farrah Fawcettís. In Edmierís youth, Jill and Farrah were both unobtainable objects of desire; as an artist he has managed to suspend time, preserving this early adulation. Keith Edmier and Farrah Fawcett 2000 (2000 Ė 2002), a collaboration with Fawcett in which he and the erstwhile art student and Charlieís Angel made full-size classical nude portrait sculptures of each other, is a bizarre and poignant exercise in belated wish-fulfilment. Reclaiming the heroes of his childhood has become a recurring Edmier motif: he has also made work celebrating Evel Knievel, Janis Joplin and John Lennon.

Beverley Edmier, 1967 (1998) conflates personal and collective memory with such casual intensity it takes your breath away. The portrait of the artistís mother as a young woman depicts her heavily pregnant and tenderly lifting up her blouse to reveal a translucent belly through which the foetal self-portrait of the artist is visible. She is rendered in clear pink plastic acrylic, the sort of material used to make cheap, bright toys. The colour extends to her wardrobe: pink blouse, scarf, gloves, tights and shoes complement her suit, a replica of the pink wool Chanel ensemble worn by Jackie Kennedy on the day of her husbandís assassination. If the reference isnít immediately obvious, close inspection reveals that the jacketís buttons feature the Presidential seal. Not content merely to make a self-portrait in utero, Edmier uses the sculpture to comment on one of the most traumatic events in modern American history. Birth, death, maternal and marital devotion, small-scale miracles and large-scale tragedies are all condensed in a sweetly disquieting contemporary take on the Visible Woman, a popular educational toy in the 1970s. The Visible Woman was a Barbie doll for the science geek: a smiling figure sporting transparent plastic skin and a range of removable internal organs. It is just the sort of thing that might have appealed to a boy who went on to make prosthetics for horror films.

The excesses of the plant kingdom provide a similar source of fascination and horror. Victoria Regia (First and Second Night Blooms) (1998) loom large over the viewer. In a potent psychological metaphor the sculptures expose the mysterious flora that lie beneath the surface of nocturnal lily ponds. The flowers perform an act of hermaphrodite transformation while the broad, heavily veined lily pads cast lurid pink shadows on their spectators. The sexual connotations of flowers are not new to art, but in Edmierís world heady eroticism is tamed by materials that flaunt their deliberate artifice. Keithís Paphiopedilum (2001) is the acrylic cast of a dying slipper orchid the colour of dried blood. Edmierís lilies and orchid, as well as his other meticulous casts of flowers such as A Dozen Roses (1998), Snowdrops (1998) and Fireweed (2002 Ė 2003), are hyperrealist depictions of how flowers loaded with all their cultural and emotional weight might look in a regressive dream.

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