A life-size sculpture of a pregnant woman and her foetus, Beverly Edmier 1967, is a portrait of the artist and his mother cast in pink resin. Beverly Edmier sits, her head bowed as she looks at her stomach, a dome of translucent dark pink resin, which one hand cradles as the other raises a silk blouse to reveal the foetus curled up inside. She is dressed in a pink wool skirt and jacket, a replica of a Chanel suit similar to the one worn by Jacqueline Kennedy (1929-94) on the day that her husband, the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy (1917-63), was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The figure’s head and hair are a similar shade of deep reddish pink as her stomach. Her gloved hands and delicate, stiletto-heeled shoes are a pale pink matching her wool skirt, while her stockinged legs are a warmer shade of pink coordinating with the little roses which adorn her shoes. Large silver buttons on her jacket bear the coat of arms of the American President. A companion work, A Dozen Roses 1998 (Tate T07748), is a pink resin cast of a bouquet of roses commemorating the bouquet Jackie Kennedy was carrying on the day of her husband’s assassination.
Edmier trained as a prosthetic special effects artist for the film industry before becoming an artist. He uses images drawn from a range of popular sources, including science fiction writing and the mass media. The artist’s personal history is the starting point for sculptures such as Jill Peters 1997 (Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam), a life-sized sculpture representing a girl Edmier had a crush on as a schoolboy. More recently, Edmier has collaborated with actress and artist Farrah Fawcett, a feminine icon of 1970s television since her 1976 debut in the series Charlie’s Angels, to produce an exhibition of sculptures and photography. Another work, Emil Dobblestein and Henry J Drope, 1944 2000 (courtesy Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York) is a memorial to the artist’s dead grandfathers who both served in the US army during the Second World War. These works are concerned with the impact of celebrity figures and collective memory on the individual, the way mass culture affects lives and shapes personalities. They recall the work of Pop artist Andy Warhol (1928-87), much of which alludes to death and the cult of celebrity.
In Beverly Edmier 1967, Edmier fuses his mother with the persona of Jackie Kennedy, blending the former First Lady’s iconic status and the tragedies of her life with his own history. Known for her beautiful clothes as well as her status as a charming and glamourous young mother in the White House, Jackie Kennedy represents a feminine ideal. At the same time Beverly Edmier 1967 may be seen as a contemporary version of the traditional mother and child and is also, in the mother’s head bowed towards her son, reminiscent of a pietà. In these two religious images of a seated mother with her child on her lap – displaying her living infant and grieving over her dead adult son – the similarity of the maternal pose unites birth and death, each of which is present in the image of the other. While elevating his mother to the position of the Madonna, Edmier’s sculpture places his own figure in the position of a foetal Christ, alive but in the potential tomb of the womb. This ambiguity is emphasised by the use of pink resin, which conforms to feminine stereotyping while confuting it. Although Beverly Edmier’s clothes are soft, the resin is hard and brittle. The foetus visible in utero has a disturbing visceral quality, more reminiscent of evisceration and loss (one aspect of the physical process of birth) than the rosiness normally associated with pregnancy and fecundity.
Beverly Edmier 1967 was produced in an edition of three plus one artist’s proof. Tate’s copy is the first in the edition.
Catherine Grenier and Catherine Kinley, Abracadabra: International Contemporary Art, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, pp.42-5, reproduced p.42 in colour (detail)
Mark Sladen, The Americans. New Art., exhibition catalogue, Barbican Art Gallery, London 2001, pp.264-73, reproduced p.268 (detail) and p.269 in colour
Keith Edmier, exhibition catalogue, Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin 1998, reproduced figs 17 and 18 (detail) in colour