While standing in line at the grocery store, we can’t help flipping through the glossy, photo-filled pages of People and Cosmopolitan and gushing over the personal lives of America’s rich, famous and rail-thin supermodels and celebrities. But what if one of those gorgeous gals had Down syndrome or autism? Shocking, weird and totally unlikely? Well, almost. To usher in gescheidle’s new space at 1039 W Lake St, artist Peregrine Honig is presenting a series of about 30 drawings that investigate bizarre, new celebrity bodies through image and text.
When fashion designers pulled a knee-jerk reaction in October 2006 and put obese women on the runway, many thought the body-image conflict was nearing its end. Honig didn’t believe this was true, and started making small-scale ink and tempera drawings of fashion models with severe diseases. “It’s very strange that [models] are that tall and thin, and when people look very different, we’re inclined to stare,” Honig says. “My drawings are about people who would also be viewed the way we are not supposed to look at others. I think these images are more empowering for the viewer and not exploitive.”
Among Honig’s new line of fashion models, one may find Autism for Armani, a delicate drawing of a young autistic boy modeling a beige Armani suit covered with colorful specks; a red rose and a blue jay. The boy is outlined in gentle black ink; his perfectly shaded rosy cheeks and slightly twisted right hand are drawn with the utmost care, as are his inward-turned feet, untied red shoelaces and skewed facial expression. “It’s not that this boy looks so different—it’s the way he behaves that gives him away,” Honig says. “What if you had a person with a different way of thinking about life walking down the runway?”
Similarly, in Down Syndrome for Chlöe, Honig illustrates a young woman with an angry facial expression and raised, bent arms who’s wearing a beautifully patterned red dress with white flowers and multicolored stripes. “With Down syndrome, I found out that oftentimes the unstyled hair or weird, plastic clips or some type of residual children’s clips will give away the disability,” Honig says. In her drawing, the model’s messy hair, slightly flatter face and upward-slanting eyes give her away.
And then there are Mary Kate and Ashley, the once-cute twins of Full House who are now full-grown, anorexic celebrities. Honig draws their thin, concave bodies as nudes, illustrating the media’s obsession with the “sick twin” and the “healthy twin” and the way the two girls have fused to become one person. “Mary Kate and Ashley don’t even have separate stars on the [Hollywood Walk of Fame],” Honig notes.
Though it doesn’t seem likely the movie and fashion industries will change any time soon, Honig’s new body of work radically alters our perceptions of beautiful and disabled bodies: They appear to be more similar than we realized.—Alicia Eler
“Peregrine Honig: Pretty Babies” is at gescheidle through July 14. Honig will discuss her work at the gallery Saturday 9 from 1–3pm.