With its steam vents, dark alleyways, and bleak urban environments, film noir sparked an unforgettable pop culture phenomenon. Prevalent in the 1940’s, the film genre gained infamy for its crooked characters. There was the corrupt cop, the shady detective, and most of all, the femme fatale—all of which had never really been portrayed by Hollywood in cinema before. Film noir created a series of firsts, and although it was a spectacle of the past, it continues to live on in the present, and has inspired both modern filmmakers and artists.
One such artist, InLiquid member Kathleen Vaccaro, uses digital imaging in combination with painting to create prints of some of her favorite scenes of the beloved genre. With her realistic portraits in juxtaposition of bold colors and bright red lips, her style of art is reminiscent of classic Hollywood makeup, and blends reality with fiction.
Site Editor Kim Minutella grabbed her magnifying glass and joined Kathleen for an investigation of her work:
Kim Minutella: In your Film Noir Series, you combine painting and digital imaging to create “smoky” portraits of famous characters, which in many ways are reminiscent of the steam vent trope in this genre. Can you tell us more about this mixed media process and how it works?
Kathleen Vaccaro: I usually start out with a photo transfer, and I’ll take a digital inkjet print and some acrylic matte medium, and I will apply it to whatever surface I am working on. I’ll place the print on that surface, and as the gel dries, it sucks the ink into the gel. Once the gel and paper is completely dry, I can then take some water and remove the paper from the gel, and that leaves an image-but I don’t always know what that image is going to look like.
KM: So with your finished print, you are getting something entirely unique every time!
KV: Exactly. And you know, I was trying to find a new way to go about painting. I was getting a little bit bored with knowing exactly what I was going to see when I was making it. So I like that “not knowing “or that (surprise) element that printmaking brings.
KM: Much like the film genre itself, your work becomes its own mystery.
KV: Yes, absolutely. That’s what I am striving to go for, that mysterious and unknown quality like in those films, where everything is ambiguous.
KM: Film noir is notorious for its ambiguity. The genre sets up its own world and features dark and gritty urban environments, as well as “less than perfect” characters. What’s interesting about your work is that you use a lot of bright colors to depict these characters in a new way that many of us have not seen before. What is it about these characters that led you to pursue such a unique aesthetic?
KV: In film noir there is this subversive quality, and as an artist, there’s a part of me that likes to be that person that switches things, that does something a little unexpected. With film noir you are going to expect a certain look, but I am trying to take that imagery and make it my own. So this (color) palette is how I bring myself into my work.
KM: With your colorful portraits, Lauren Bacall is often the star of your prints and paintings. Lauren Bacall, especially, is seen as a figurehead for the femme fatale character, which has been labeled as a “bad girl” archetype. Would you say that femme fatale characters like the ones that Lauren portrays are more of a hero for women than a “bad girl” stereotype?
KV: Yes, I do see her (Lauren) as more of a heroine. Maybe not so much in the roles, or the characters she was playing, but more in a way that she was an actress that played one of the first strong female character types in movies with a sense of independence. And that’s what I am really drawn to with her.
KM: Humphrey Bogart is also in the spotlight together with Lauren Bacall in your many of your portraits. Is there a significance as to why you place these two actors together so often in your work?
KV: With Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, they were married in real life. When you see them on screen, the chemistry they have is very real. So I think there’s something really interesting with the dichotomy of real versus acting, and how the two kind of come together with them. It’s really magnetic to watch.
You can put on your fedoras and your most smoldering stare, and celebrate your love of film noir with Kathleen Vaccaro in the Creations exhibit at Legend Galleries, located on 230 N. 21 Street, Philadelphia. The exhibit is on display until October 12, and will feature a meet-and greet with the artists in the show as well as a live mixed media demonstration on October 9, from 1 – 5pm.