Being Cindy Sherman: The New York artist dresses up as a trophy wife to explore her fear of ageing and Botox

 

One gilt-framed portrait features a woman with a stern-faced muscularity reminiscent of Laura Bush, another depicts a society wife with a powdered décolletage and a Sarah Palin smile. Turn around in the small Mayfair gallery and you are sure the oversized portraits of firm-bosomed women in pearls and pashminas are the distinguished faces of first ladies, trophy wives and elderwomen you have seen before.

The déjà vu, it turns out, is intentional. These women are meant to be reminiscent, tantalisingly familiar even in their anonymity.

But whoever you think they are, or represent, they are not to be mistaken for Cindy Sherman, the New York artist who has made a distinguished career out of her dress-up box of clowns, centrefold models and B-movie actresses whose identities she assumes in her photography.

These 14 stately figures are her most recent subjects, unveiled today at Sprüth Magers gallery in London, and they were invented, as usual, in her studio, using latex, a bright overhead light and theatrical make-up with only herself in central casting.

The women, like many of her subjects, verge on the humorous, even grotesque, but Sherman plays them straight, without a hint of irony.

Andy Warhol once said of Sherman that "she's good enough to be a real actress". Sherman doesn't disagree. Who she is and who she "acts" are very distinct, though people don't always get the difference, she explains.

Who she is today is a birdlike blonde, dressed as an unassuming every-woman with a plain, scrubbed face that eschews the vanities of the heavily painted Mrs Robinsons in her latest works. One suspects this, the polite tone and the sunny smiles, could well be another disguise with the real impenetrable Cindy Sherman buried somewhere underneath.

Sherman says she has got into rows with journalists who refuse to accept that her photographs, spanning more than three decades and almost all exclusively featuring her own disguised image, should not be seen as solipsistic self-portraiture.

In an interview with The New York Times in 1990, she said: "I feel I'm anonymous in my work. When I look at the pictures, I never see myself; they aren't self-portraits."

Today, she's more equivocal. Aged 55, she is part of the generation she seeks to portray in these pictures. They are not self-portraits but they could be the Dorian Gray's of her interior world, she suggests, in which some of her own fears of ageing are mirrored in their liver spots, sepulchral tones and folds of sagging skin peeping out from beneath their glamorous veneers.

"I don't want people to think I'm making fun of them. I can relate to these women. I'm about the same age as some of the characters... I wasn't sure I wanted to include some of them in the show. They don't go far enough away from me recognising myself... it was also about recognising the anxiety when I think 'gee, I'm successful'.

"It's the way I look at myself, critical but sympathetic. I was surprised when I was blowing them up on computer by how much empathy I had for them. There was a pathos behind their eyes. I suddenly started to feel sorry for them."

Their issues, she says, are also hers. "There are issues of Botox which I've experimented with. I have done it but I don't like the way it feels....The frozen forehead isn't good for my work. Every couple of years I look at my lines and I want to get rid of them. I think maybe I should try it [Botox] again. In five or 10 years, I might think 'fuck it' and have a face lift."

So how did Sherman, an art student at the Buffalo State University who failed her photography class as a freshman, ever claim this highly specialised area of art as disguise as her own?

"As a therapeutic thing, I'd hang around in the studio (at university) done up in character. I wouldn't do anything about it. Sometimes I'd go to parties dressed in character. Then, a friend rented a photo booth and I dressed up as Lucille Ball. I had this red wig which must have inspired me to do her. My boyfriend at the time watched me dressing up all the time and said I really should be documenting it."

At the age of 23, she did just that, creating a set of 69 "Untitled Film Stills", in which she dressed up as a strangely familiar yet unnamed actress in shots reminiscent of foreign films, B-movies and film noir. The black and white shots, which Sherman completed in 1980, launched her career. In 1996, New York's Museum of Modern Art paid $1m for the complete series.

She followed it up a year later with "Centrefolds", commissioned for Artforum magazine. Her images parodied soft-core porn magazine shots and Artforum rejected them outright.

The images have since been appropriated by feminists and placed on university modules on postmodern identity politics.

She has always expressed ambivalence over this ("I don't read the stuff", she says), yet it sounds as if her dressing up, in the early days at least, was a feminist protest of sorts. "I was aware when I was brought up of how I was supposed to look a certain way. Wearing make-up, high heels, these uncomfortable shoes and having to wear girdles. It started off as questioning..."

Not everyone gets the irony of work featuring femmes fatales and vixens even now, three decades after the "Centrefolds" controversy. "Some men don't get the irony," she says. She doesn't appear angered by this, outwardly at least, but she is planning a show in which she will, finally, "do" men.

"I view it like equal opportunities photography... But it's harder for me to relate to men's faces and bodies. These women show vulnerability. Men don't. They're more bullish."

Since the late 1970s, Sherman's art has come to command some of the highest prices in New York and her recent relationship with the former Talking Heads singer, David Byrne, has only led to greater veneration. But she's not rock and roll, she insists. "I don't think artists should be seen as stars or celebrities. I don't believe they should court attention."

And with that she's off, all five feet nothing of her melting into the crowd. A few moments later it becomes hard even to recall the details of her scrubbed clean, nice-but-forgettable face. The only reminder of her are the grotesque, glamorous women glaring out from the gallery walls, with just a hint of the other Cindy Sherman creeping out from beneath.

Cindy Sherman, Sprüth Magers, London W1 to 27 May - http://spruethmagers.net

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month

TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel

film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower