Oil on linen Jane Fonda is an amazing actress, activist, feminist and person. I’ve been wanting to paint this image for a long time, and so glad to be able to do so at this moment, when women are taking over the House, and when the Warhol show is up at the Whitney, as this image also is an homage to Warhol, and his “silver Elvis” paintings (which were based on a publicity stills like this one). Cat Ballou is also an incredible 1965 film and character, where she goes rogue after her father is murdered by a land developer, and leads a gang of misfit male characters (who are also strong gay and Native American) to notorious glory. Jane Fonda of course was herself notorious at the time as “Hanoi Jane”, when she made the mistake of resting for a moment on a visit to Vietnam (she was against the war but also wanted to find out more) on an anti-aircraft gun, after a long day when she was exhausted and not paying attention, and was lead there by someone after a group celebration, when the cameras flashed and a two-minute mistake became a lifetime regret. At that time, conservatives villainized her, and a very different image from Cat Ballou went viral—that of her contemplating being hung by a noose!
I’m happy to reclaim another image from the film, as I love her and all the amazing things she represents to both myself and feminist and progressive movements my whole life, as well as being entertained by her incredible acting and roles of hers (and her families). I admire how she still is very much in the spotlight as a strong female protagonist of our world—both in her ongoing, fruitful acting career, and how in front and behind the scenes of many movements, including for the rights of women and people of color. As a celebrity, she emulates what currently is happening in our political and social life, that woman of all stripes and colors are the matriarchs that are leading the progress of our society and world. In this painting, it was fun to fervently paint, after Warhol, I feel my job is to honor the people behind the icons, to make them “come alive” in my painterly practice, and to bring out and illuminate what they mean to me and to hopefully our culture. Unlike the Elvis Flaming Star image that Warhol silkscreened, here she seemed both coy and full on energy, almost as she is drawing her guns in a duel. I wanted it to feel of the moment, like she is wittingly challenging her viewer, thinking of course of Manet’s woman, looking at the viewer looking at them, but also the strong women lovingly rendered by Sargent and Whistler. The grid shows in the back a bit, but also wanted to keep this as it seems she is in front of line-up, but superseding her territory coming out of subjugation and commanding her agency, jumping out of her supposed context and charging into the world to make it a better place.