I've been thinking a fair bit about the Seven Sutherland Sisters, thanks to a card I received from my friend and mentor Tim Tracz this week.
Officially they were a singing group, but are best known (probably because photos speak louder than non-existent recordings) for having loads of hair, and the publicity photos of the time show them all arrayed to its advantage--backs to cameras and looking over their shoulders, or turned sideways with the tresses draped around them like mantles. Even outside the Barnum and Bailey circuit, the women led bizarre lives, with their fair share of family madness and eccentricities.
It's been interesting to see them promoted simultaneously as "the seven most pleasing wonders of the world," and freaks of nature, in the same material. It's a dynamic that interests me for personal, as well as intellectual, reasons. How does one reconcile being both fascinated and repulsed by something? When does plenty become excess and the beautiful become the grotesque? What is the appeal of an image (or a person) that is mostly hidden by something? How do our most pronounced characteristics come to represent us as symbols?
I think it's a rich and layered subject, and as such, has a lot of potential for painting fodder.
If I do a series based on them--as I'm thinking now I might--it won't really be about them at all (though their lives were certainly weird enough to merit some history-style work), but about the physical/social masking of personality, and the inherent strangeness in that. I'm doing some studies to see if the idea translates at all, before I get too invested; I've done two today.
I don't know. We'll see.
Interested parties may also note that I'm using myself as a model for several of these figures.