Marilyn Minter

"Barbed Wire" (with Pamela Anderson). Marilyn Minter's work can blur the line between commercial and art, making some uncomfortable. (Marilyn Minter)

Marilyn Minter's latest pictures look like high fashion throwing up: Big, glossy close-ups of lipsticked mouths spewing diamonds, pearls and colorful, glittering goo.

Both luminous and grotesque, they are meant to evoke the experience of flipping through a glamour magazine like Vogue, Minter says.

"[People] get a lot of pleasure out of it, and at the very same time they know they're never going to look that good," she said. "So my aim is to try to create that same paradox. Because it's a very complicated thing, the way we look, and what it feels like to look."

Minter, 62, has worked largely under the radar for most of her 40-year career as a painter and photographer, but her more recent meditations on glamour have helped bring her to art world prominence. She had a solo show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2005, and her work was seen in the 2006 Whitney Biennial (one of her pictures, of a woman's cracked heels wedged into dirty stiletto pumps, was featured on the invitation to the exhibition).

Her newest works are on display at Regen Projects in Los Angeles through Dec. 5. The show includes several paintings and photographs of Pamela Anderson (without makeup, dripping wet and looking decidedly un-bombshell), as well as the pictures of made-up mouths smeared in goo. They came about when Minter asked a model to swirl a mixture of meringue and food coloring across a piece of glass with her tongue while Minter took pictures from below. An eight-minute video taken during that shoot, titled "Green Pink Caviar," is playing once an hour on two high-definition billboards on Sunset Boulevard in conjunction with the show.

The art, Minter said, is meant to reveal the distance between representations of glamour in popular culture and the realities of the flesh.

Six feet tall, with red hair and bright red lipstick, Minter looks as if she could be a part of the fashion world she critiques. A former model who was, she said, once obsessed with her looks, Minter has long been preoccupied with ideas of glamour and beauty.

As a child growing up in Louisiana, she taught herself how to draw by sketching pictures of princesses and comic-strip heroine Brenda Starr. In her early 20s, while she was a student at the University of Florida, Minter made black-and-white photographs of her aging, pill-popping mother as the woman stared into mirrors and applied makeup.

"My mother was a textbook narcissist," said Minter. But though her mother aspired to Hollywood standards of beauty, "her glamour was off," Minter said.

The proof sheets of that photo series, now known as "Coral Ridge Towers," caught the eye of Diane Arbus when the legendary photographer visited the school's art department in 1969.

Arbus declared it the only student work she liked. But Minter said her peers ridiculed the work, and she left the film unprinted for 25 years.

Early subjects

After earning a master's in fine arts from Syracuse University in 1976, Minter moved to New York City and set up shop in the SoHo studio where she lives today.

In the 1970s and 1980s, she made photo-realistic paintings that riffed on the representations of women and women's work in popular culture. She made paintings of spills on kitchen floors and of images found in cookbooks and fashion magazines (often filtered through dot screens, à la Roy Lichtenstein).

In 1989, she began painting big, uncomfortably realistic paintings of hard-core pornography.

"I thought, 'What subject matter have women artists never owned?' " she said. "I was interested in showing the construction of desire."

Although the pictures led to several gallery shows in New York, they drew fire from anti-pornography crusaders and fellow artists who said that they weren't critical enough and that they glamorized an industry which was demeaning toward women.

Minter worried that she would be forever exiled from the art world.

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