press release

John Wayne Cookie Jars, Jesus Rag Dolls, Ed Sullivan as a Young Girl and Abraham Lincoln's Leg. These are four of the amusing and disturbing works that Kim Dingle has created over the past ten years. In one way or another, and often with immense, dark humor, Dingle's art illuminates the role that race, gender, stereotype, and myth play in defining identity. This exhibition presents a survey of Dingle's work with particular emphasis on her rambunctious and sometimes violent alter-egos, Priss and the Wild Girls.

Dingle's early works display a loopy interest in portraiture. Her first solo exhibition was entitled "Portraits from the Dingle Library." In George Washington as Cram Dingle as Queen Elizabeth, 1990, and Baby Cram Dingle as George Foreman, 1991, the artist combined the image of her mother, Cram, with powerful personages–a president, a queen, a champion boxer–thereby empowering her by association. Witty and irreverent, the paintings also point to the arbitrary nature of our concepts of sexual identity. Dingle's discussion of the paintings is more straightforward and amusing: she points out that her mother believes that she is related to both George Washington and Queen Elizabeth and that the reference to Foreman came after the painting was completed, when she noticed the similarity between Cram and George's physiognomy.

Kim Dingle grew up in California in the 1950s. Her best known works–paintings of little girls in frilly "Easter Sunday" dresses–do not, however, reflect the innocence of the 50s or the smiling darlings of TV sitcoms and family snapshots. More often than not, Dingle's girls clench their fists and furrow their brows as they pummel each other with dolls, wrestle around on the floor, or chase one another with weapons drawn. Painted in a cartoony and energetic style, the works convey the fun of rebellion and the joy of being mischievously and unapologetically oneself.

Dingle often inserts her little girls into scenes traditionally occupied by males. The mythic American West of Hollywood movies and Remington paintings provides the backdrop for the Wild Girl series of 1992—93. In two more recent works historic scenes of patriotism are recast with female protagonists: Untitled (Hatchet), 1998, recalls the tale of George Washington and the cherry tree, while Untitled (Girls with the dresspole) mimics the composition drawn from the Iwo Jima Memorial of figures raising a flag.

The action of Dingle's paintings is transferred into three-dimensions in Priss Room. The 1995 installation presents the viewer with a nursery in chaos. Stuffed toys lay shredded and mutilated on the floor. The sweetly decorated wallpaper is covered with wild scribbles and smears of unidentified substances, and the furniture has been demolished. The perpetrators of this disarray stand defiantly in their crib: two little girls–one black, the other white–both named Priss. Feet firmly planted, fists clenched, with bushy hair made from steel wool, and a grimace that would stop a Mack truck, they stand wearing white ruffled dresses and laced-edged socks that have somehow remained clean throughout the ordeal. They are made of hand-painted porcelain, and as the artist points out, they are tough but also vulnerable.

Priss and the Wild Girls are modeled after Wadow Dingle, the artist's niece. Born with brain damage, Wadow was prone to violent outbursts as a child. According to Dingle, "She was always wearing really frilly lavender-type Easter Sunday dresses. With this tumbleweed head and this enormously violent and volatile energy in her. She was otherwise the picture of femininity." Dingle is quick to point out the wild girls are also self-portraits. "I am a violent person. Not physically, but that violence is in me, that rage. Those children are me."

Works in the exhibition were generously lent from the collections of Eileen and Peter Norton of Santa Monica, Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg of Scarsdale, and the artist.


Kim Dingle & The Wild Girls