Life of luxury


POSTED: Sunday, October 04, 2009

From the vacant gazes of party girls in her drawings to the saccharine messages culled from her high-school yearbook, Kirsten Rae Simonsen's exhibit, “;Luxury Playtime: Welcome to the New Lifestyle,”; was inspired heavily by MTV's reality show “;The Hills.”;

“;These works grew out of looking at that show, which is absolutely devoid of content,”; Simonsen says. “;I captured tons of stills of 'reaction shots' that are meant to convey so-called emotions, and I thought of how females construct identity from expressions.”;

To examine the decadent culture of “;Hills”; party girls, hung up on their luxury lifestyle amid the economic crisis, the artist produced pencil drawings painted with acrylics to portray women with cold expressions, surrounded by stereotypical feminine images such as jewels and flowers.





        On exhibit: Through Nov. 13

Place: Hawaii Pacific University Art Gallery, 45-045 Kamehameha Highway


Gallery hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays


Call: 544-0287




The accouterments reflect Simonsen's other influence, Shanghai pin-ups of the '40s. In fact, the exhibit name is influenced by the artist's travels through China.

“;I saw two different ads. One, for a posh, high-end shopping mall, was called 'Luxury Playtime' and featured images of cappuccino and espresso, golf courses, cigars and wine—exports of the Western luxury culture offered in 'The Hills.' The other was for a grocery store and said, 'Welcome to the New Lifestyle.'”;

At first, “;Luxury Playtime”; comprised drawings only, but Simonsen realized the writings, titled “;Suburban Promises,”; worked well alongside the visuals.

“;The writings are the word versions of the expressions,”; she says, noting that titles for the drawings are all inspired by dialogue from “;The Hills.”;

In fact, when hanging the show, gallery director Sanit Khewhok turned the images to the wall and matched up drawings with writings according to those titles.

“;It became a bizarre, long narrative,”; the artist said. “;It really doesn't matter what's next to what.”;

Besides making art, Simonsen has a bustling career in teaching, at three separate schools. She teaches graphic design at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, design and introductory art courses at Hawaii Pacific University and digital art at Kapiolani Community College.

“;My whole interest in graphic design comes from my interest in ads,”; she says. “;I'm fascinated by how ads influence people, and I see 'The Hills' as one big ad.”;