Ancient Diva

Contributing artists:

Stormberg's experimental performance art, video, and art objects deploy character alter-egos in an expansive, playful, bright, over-the-top way. In aesthetic and attitude, these characters feel like an unhinged and reinterpreted remix of 90s American television-turned-theatrics a la WWE, QVC, and Jerry Springer—her camp-as-punk approach to creating work embraces these parts of our culture and emphasizes their strangeness. Stormberg is a world-builder with a visual language that further expands in Ancient Diva, the artist's first solo exhibition with the gallery, which focuses on new paintings and sculptures.

Powerfully primal facets of feminity and feminine energy are pushed to the furthest end of the spectrum and at the forefront of each art object. Her new paintings and sculptures communicate with the ancient divine feminine, a universal mother power, familiar spirits, and deeply personal experiences within the artist's life. Stormberg states, 'Ancient Diva lives in every creative action I make these days: cooking, washing, clay, painting, raising a child, being pregnant, surveying the world around me, being with family and friends, gardening, shopping, hiking through the forest, bathing.'

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a large oil-on-canvas painting that features a singular statuesque ancient Diva, string-bikini-clad and rippling with impossible muscles protruding beyond even the most built human anatomy, crossing her large hands over her chest and heart. Her gaze is averted downward with an emotive expression, her face shaded under a cowgirl hat and glowing locks. She emanates from a dark plane from which glowing orbs, flora, and stylized butterflies emerge. Despite the cool-toned palette, this is an overall warmth to Stormberg's paintings, soft and velveteen, an alluring mix with the Diva's ripped body. This Diva embodies the vascularized female bodybuilder's spectacular and seemingly paradoxical ability— a woman simultaneously containing the furthest extremes on a binary gender spectrum. Like the female bodybuilders in magazines, the Diva sports Westernized hyper-feminine attire: long hair, long nails, a skimpy bikini, and a diamond-studded heart band on her all-white cowgirl hat. Hyper- feminine attire is a tool media has developed to counteract any perceived masculinity of the woman with a large, rigid, muscular body. Here, Stormberg's Diva points out the oddness of these accepted American pop-culture models and tropes we are used to seeing while forming something altogether new—a goddess, both current and past, cosmic and human, folkloric, and from an entirely new fable. She is a warrior, dancer, protector, spirit, giant, Dolly Parton's celestial mother from the future.

In Friendship, a massive nine-by-six-foot painting, two Divas ride atop a horse-like familiar, one holding onto its back and the other embracing the Diva in front of her, an arm lovingly draped over her friend's shoulder, the weight of her head resting on the other's. It's an embrace, tender and trusting, platonic but with the strength of an unbreakable bond. The horse-like familiar personifies that of every childhood dream pony. It safely guides the Divas through this spiritual landscape, inky black with glowing orbs and pink, smokey clouds cutting through the sky, mimicking the familiar's flowing lilac tail. The Divas' purplish flesh exudes a supernatural glow; they feel illuminated by an internal power rather than an external light source. The blackness enveloping the figures is more of a supernatural cosmos than a nocturnal scene, or perhaps both. Friendship addresses an old and current idea— at the forefront of many communities in America who seek structures that better serve them and their loved ones—mutual aid, collective care, queering friendships, and building new models of community and family.

Anchoring the paintings in Ancient Diva is a central sculpture entitled Lilac Spirit Horse. Seated, legs folded in, curved rump on display in a contrapposto twist, this horse-like familiar engages with the viewer more directly than the one in Friendship, though they feel related. Lilac Spirit Horse gazes at us with a reassuring stare. The scale, too, is that of an earth familiar; at 27" x 23" x 23", the sculpture is that of a medium-sized dog. Eyes characterized by heavy lids and thick stick eyelashes, gentle as a cow's but exaggerated ten-fold. On its back are carefully and masterfully rendered rippling feathered wings. In this sculpture, we meet and engage with the Diva's companion or perhaps our companion guide. For anyone who's had a deep bond with an animal, we know this kind of love. In Ancient Diva, the artist uses animal familiars as metaphoric guides for transitory times. Transition is often applied to gender or crossing the threshold between life and death. Stormberg states she is interested in the many transitions we experience over a lifetime: birth, friendship, loss, pregnancy, raising children, growing old, our continually changing bodies, and death.

Ancient Diva addresses these central parts of human experience we often shy away from or dismiss as grotesque, a tactic employed by our patriarchal society's inability to see birth, child- rearing, femininity, and womanhood as inherently creative and expansive. In Western culture, we are terrified of this creativity and the vastness of human potential. Stormberg's work embodies human and divine femininity. Her paintings and sculptures imaginatively question gender and sex mythos, proposing a new mythos that perhaps grew from the pre-white patriarchal time when we were held and protected by the giant Divas, our foremothers. Playfully wrapped in a veil of Americana camp, with a contemporary West Coast take—ancient Divas, foreshadowing futuristic extraterrestrial cowgirls.

Across her multi-media practice, and even more so in Ancient Diva, we see the artist confront the multiple definitions of radical—that is, tethered to a communal root, a spiritual mother, one perhaps we all feel but cannot quite name, and a new branch from the roots that tie us to the past—a new branch that employs recognizable aesthetics from the recent past, popular culture, cartoons, and beloved toys from childhood. Something is reassuring about these references, and the artist wields them in an ungraspable way that keeps oddness and freshness to her sculptures and paintings.