Vee Speer’s Birthday Party- Bring Balloons!

By Kimberly Brooks
February 6, 2009

“When I have something to say that is too difficult for adults, I write for children. They have not closed the shutters. They like it when you rock the boat.” – Madeline L’Engle

During a time when we are passing bills the size of mountains that our children and children’s children will have to pay, the haunting work of photographer Vee Speers seems doubly fresh as well as beautiful. Celebratory children in costumed dresses, beehive hairdos, and wings along with images of children in gas masks and silent pleading looks on their are starkly celebrated on a plain backrop. The washed out photos appear aged and recall a sense of timelessness, that makes them feel removed, but haunting nonetheless.

With these photographs (her daughter mostly) at play or war, Speers invites the viewer to celebrate and experience as a child. We dress up in costumes, we laugh, we cry and we remember what it is like to live in a complicated time with explanations that do not always make sense. With grace and quiet simplicity, we are invited to play “make-believe” and explore Speers’ heightened reality. And just like children, we like it when she serves up the unexpected, whether playful or dire. She has two upcoming shows, one starting tonite at Act2galerie in Paris, Feb 6 – April 10, and Jackson Fine Art Gallery in Atlanta February 13th – March 28th.

?Vee Speers, Untitled #1, Cibachrome prints, 20″ x 24″

Kimberly Brooks: Your images are at once playful and disturbing. What was the seed of inspiration for these photographs?
Vee Speers: During my daughter’s 8th birthday party in Paris a few years ago, I closely observed the dynamics between the children, and the various levels of role-playing. It reminded me of my own childhood, and that anarchy and freedom of expression. I realized that as we grow older, we lose that sense of play and spontaneity so I decided to capture the last moments of childhood with an imaginary party.

Vee Speers, Untitled #2, Cibachrome prints, 20″ x 24″, 2007

KB: I was fascinated to learn that a majority of your photos was your daughter. My mother is a psychologist and her dissertation was “Successful Women and Their Female Mentors.” I grew up with her writing it and interviewing women as she got her Ph.D. She was the inspiration for my “Mom’s Friends” Series where I made paintings of my mother and her friends in the 70s. How did your mother inspire you?

VS: My mother was a singer, and we grew up watching her sing in public, so it seemed obvious that I should include an image of my daughter–who also sings–performing. For me, this photo is very poignant, as it captures the nostalgia of my own childhood. I photographed my daughter blowing a bubble with her hands as this particular image expresses creation, and captures the essence of “The Birthday Party.”

Vee Speers, Untitled #3, Cibachrome prints, 20″ x 24″, 2007

KB: Some of your works have a darker undertone than children at play as in “The Birthday Party” series. What about the images of your daughter wearing the nurses costume or gas mask?
VS: My daughter dressed as a nurse and holding a broken, dirty doll that was inspired by a scene from the war in Lebanon. I have used many symbols of war in this series (the child with gas mask is another) because we are exposed to the repercussions of war in everyday life, and sadly our children are also affected by this.

Vee Speers, Untitled #4, Cibachrome prints, 20″ x 24″, 2007

KB: So, then do you consider your works politically oriented or is it more so about the viewer’s response?
VS: I like to evoke an immediate response that triggers off an emotion or memory, and perhaps more precisely a kind of empathy with the character I’ve created.
Vee Speers, Untitled #5, Cibachrome prints, 20″ x 24″, 2007

KB: Tell us a little about your process.
VS: My work process is a very normal process–no magic tricks or ‘routines’. I keep everything simple, and work as quickly as possible so that I maintain the energy of the moment. Taking forever to take a portrait is a recipe for disaster. And in the case of “The Birthday Party,” the children wouldn’t hold the positions for long so I always had to work fast.

KB: Has one particular artist or genre of art influenced your work?
VS: Not one artist in particular–I have a broad appreciation of art, although I am particularly inspired by the cinema, and am a big fan of directors such as David Lynch and Peter Greenaway.

LEFT: Lost Highway Film Poster, Written and Directed by David Lynch, 1997.
RIGHT: Drowning By Numbers Film Poster, Written and Directed by Peter Greenaway, 1988.

KB: Goodluck with your opening this weekend. Give Paris a french kiss for me.
Vee Speers was born in Australia and has been living in Paris since 1990. Her portraits have been exhibited and published world-wide and are part of important private and public collections. Speers’s most recent work The Birthday Party, is a series of short stories linked by the theme of an imaginary birthday party. The concept is very streamlined and simple, as are the visuals–lone children against the same gray wall staring openly at the camera, the elements working together to create these timeless portraits. Speers is represented by: Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta, Galerie Beckers, Frankfurt. Acte2galerie, Paris.

Artist Vee Speers

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