Artists have painted self-portraits since medieval times, but Taiyo la Paix literally throws himself into his work.
Married and quickly divorced right out of college, la Paix says he went through a rough time with family obligations and had no time or energy for a social life. Lonely, he began to paint Papillia. This extraordinary-looking woman is his companion in his paintings (her first incarnation is a work bearing her name).
Like Manet’s regal Olympia, she looks directly and unabashedly at the viewer. Posed in the center of the canvas, she stands in a pink world surrounded by butterflies.
The couple is seen enveloped in a pink haze, walking joyfully through a flock of pigeons in “Hôtel la Vie”—and, in “Kiss,” doing just that, ardently, in the middle of a rainstorm. Papillia’s dress is tight, and is becoming transparent with the rain, as is the artist’s patterned shirt.
Other figures in the painting are covering themselves with umbrellas or newspapers—but our hero and heroine remain oblivious.
On the surface, it’s all whimsy: but Papillia’s body and mannerisms are so consistent she could have modeled for the artist. In “Pearl of the Deep Seas,” she stands alone before a full-length mirror in a room with pink wallpaper decorated with pinker hearts. She carefully examines her voluptuous body, comparing it to that of a woman in a magazine. “Teardrops” shows her wrapped in a pale-pink fuzzy scarf, her hands with their ever-present rings peeking from the sleeves of a cable-knit sweater. The painting is a frigid blue. Tears gather in her eyes, and she, as always, wears a flower in her hair, this time a tiny pink rose.
La Paix’s sensual oils hover between Botticelli and Japanese animation, between kitsch and some kind of deeper commentary—but there is a yearning tenderness in these paintings that transcends their style and gives them universality.
[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based artist.]
Paintings by Taiyo la Paix can be seen at the Flood Gallery in the Phil Mechanic Building (109 Roberts St.) through Thursday, June 28. 254-2166.