By Sandra Schulman
Inspired by both Greek sculptures from the Hellenistic era and the outrageous fashion forward designs of the late provocateur Alexander McQueen, multimedia artist Rick Lazes has created something new – a series of three-dimensional sculptures of paper dolls.
As part of the Art Couture: The Intersection of Art and Fashion exhibit at the newly reopened Cornell Museum at Old School Square, these hand-painted, wall-mounted sculptures create a new kind of very grown-up toy, one that zips from antiquity to modernity.
The full collection of 40 pieces are in varying fashionable styles and poses, a select few inspired by the iconic work of McQueen. Lazes works in a variety of media including wood, plaster, stainless steel, glass, plexiglass, and marble. He lives and works on Lake Norman near Charlotte, N.C.
Lazes is beyond just a visual artist; his impressive résumé includes his work in the entertainment industry, where he has produced hundreds of concerts and live music festivals in collaboration with concert giant Live Nation, as well as TV shows for HBO and Cinemax. He recently directed a feature-length documentary about the heavyweight-boxing champion Lennox Lewis titled Tough Love that screened at the Tribeca Film Festival.
As in the classic Greek tradition, the sculptures are headless, mainly due to centuries of religious and political censorship. During Lazes’ extensive study of these ancient sculptures, he became enamored by a stylization called “wet-drapery,” a term used to describe cloth that clings to the body in soft folds while it reveals the form beneath.
Lazes’ sculptures take modern clothing and ape the classic wet-drapery styling. This gives the impression of a body both clothed and naked, complete with tabs to fold around the models body that was usually included with a paper doll set for children.
“Six years ago, I started on a series of sculpture influenced by famous fashion designers; people like Versace, Pierre Cardin, Ralph Lauren, Vera Lang, Anna Sui and Stella McCartney,” Lazes says, explaining how he came to create this art. “Then on my birthday five years ago, a friend gave me a book about Alexander McQueen and I read about McQueen’s ‘Savage Beauty’ show at the (New York) Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“I instantly realized that McQueen on his worst day was better than most of the rest on their best. I began to study McQueen and immediately became consumed with his life story. He was an incredible artist who lived his life to extremes. He had amazing highs and depressing lows and one of his sources of angst was that he was never accepted as a true ‘artist,’ but was always delegated as a fashion designer.
“I decided to pay homage to McQueen’s art and dedicated hundreds of hours to creating a series of sculpture that would pay tribute to his significant contributions to the fashion industry.”
As for what he wants viewers to take away from the paper dolls, he says:
“I hope that the viewers will be inspired by the beauty of the work and taken by the sensuality of the images. McQueen was criticized for being a misogynist but in fact his goal was to empower women and used their sexuality to show their strength … I decided to use paper dolls as a metaphor to interweave antiquity, nostalgia and contemporary fashion and to contrast a child’s play thing with adult fantasy.”
Lazes and his studio partner, Paul Veto, developed an unusual process to create the dolls. Drawings of the outfits from a London fashion show on a body are laminated onto acrylic sheets, then hand-painted. The sheets are then oven-heated which makes them pliable and then hand-molded over wooden forms to create further 3-D shapes.
Lazes exhibited Paper Dolls in New Orleans for the annual Art for Art’s Sake weekend. After New Orleans, Lazes jetted to Texas, New York, and then to Europe to complete the Fashion Week circuit in Paris, Milan, and Dubai.
Back in the States he is working on his Broadway show about McQueen, also titled Paper Dolls. The project has expanded in the years since its inception, an idea born from a stray action figure doll in the studio and seeing the film on McQueen’s tragic, dramatic life (he committed suicide by hanging in 2010 at the age of 40).
“I am a visual artist whether it is expressed through film, music or my sculpture,” Lazes said. “My passion is to tell stories that entertain and inspire audiences through art, theater and film and to help viewers imagine and explore their own creativity.”
The Art Couture exhibit will remain on view through the summer at the Cornell Museum. Hours are 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Admission: $8, $5 for seniors, free for children under 12, veterans and Old School Square members. Call 243-7922 for more information or visit www.cornellartmuseum.org.