In Fangirl, Dorothy Netherland's mixed-media pieces subvert society's ideas of beauty 

Looks can be deceiving

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Dorothy Netherland

Dorothy Netherland is a Charleston-based visual artist. Her work has been shown extensively throughout the southeast and has been exhibited nationally and internationally for over a decade. So it's a pretty big deal to hear her say, "I know this is my best work and it has so much potential [going forward]."

Netherland is referring to her current body of work which utilizes collage, photo transfer, screenprint, acrylic, paint pen, and sharpie layered on both sides of Mylar sheets.

These large mixed-media pieces defy simple description. They are stunningly intricate, interweaving images of gems, flowers, insects, faces, fashion photography. They compel the viewer to take the time to dissect each piece, perhaps search for deeper meaning, or simply become ensconced in the elaborate beauty each work bestows.

And it will all be on display at The Southern Gallery in Netherland's exhibition Fangirl.

As with all artists, Netherland's process has evolved over the years. At one time known for her paintings on glass, it wasn't until 2016 that she became dedicated to her current process. And she has been completely immersed. "I've never been this focused in my work," says Netherland. "I work so much. All day. Constantly."

But all that time spent working meticulously down to the last detail hasn't been a burden for Netherland. Quite the contrary, "It's so great to feel this way," she says. "To feel this dedicated and almost obsessed."

And there's the added bonus of creating from her home studio, where Netherland's husband and daughter are always just a room away. And it's her teenage daughter, Izzy, who is more than just a presence in the house, photos of her face are ubiquitous in Netherland's work, often attached to altered bodies from fashion magazines.

Some people may think a teenage girl would be uncomfortable having her face plastered all over her mother's art. But that's not the case with Izzy. "I think she just sees it as art and doesn't really think of it as her," says Netherland. "She gets what the work is about and finds it really interesting." (We checked with Izzy; she concurred.)

In Fangirl, Netherland is investigating issues of identity, gender, girl power, and social media. "For kids, [using social media] is just a normal way of interaction," says Netherland. "I don't think it's necessarily bad, but it comes with all these complications. And I'm interested in those complications. It is empowering in some ways, but it is branding and it is fake."

Netherland doesn't wish to be preachy with her art; she chooses to focus mainly on the visual aesthetics and let her symbolism be open to interpretation. "You start making all these connections of things that it could mean to you," says Netherland. "But the meaning and the content doesn't matter if the image doesn't work. The image has to be compelling."

Another prominent theme — one that is a fascination for Netherland and recurrent throughout her artistic output — is humanity's conception of "real" versus "fake." Two of her Fangirl pieces feature the photo of a very real black moth. That image is repeated, arranged and layered appropriately, serving as a sort of background/border. And arranged on top of that are almost kaleidoscopic groupings of colorful gems and figures (and of course, Izzy's face). "The moth is camouflage and it's from nature. And these [kaleidoscopic clusters] are sort of unnatural and trying to stand out," says Netherland. "It's kind of like everybody is vying for attention but they're all colliding."

A total of five of these large compositions will be featured in the Fangirl exhibition, along with a collection of other pieces by Netherland, adorning The Southern Gallery's pristine white walls.

Erin and Justin Nathanson, owners of The Southern, are very hands-on gallery owners. They've come to Netherland's home studio several times to discuss the work and collaborate to devise the best show possible. It has been an enriching experience for Netherland. "They're so generous, so smart and knowledgeable and they have such good instincts," she says. "I'm so grateful for them. They are amazing to work with."

After only a year or so working with this specific arrangement of mediums — though, over the years, she has worked in similar fashions — Netherland is noticeably excited about how this work will evolve. But only time will tell that tale. One thing Netherland does know, "[Fangirl] will be the best show I've ever had."


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