An interview with Florida-raised artist Emile Mausner, discussing her painting, Orange Blossom Special.
Florida was and is a utopian project, and like all utopias it straddles an immense contradiction of terms in our cultural imaginings.
Fantastic Floridas: What about Florida inspires you to make art?
Emile Mausner: Perusing almost any antique market around Florida will yield a curious archive of postcards: some blank, some returned to sender, many written on but never sent. Most are black-and-white photographs, hand-colored to advertise the promise of a tropical paradise—and this style remained popular even when color photography was easier to reproduce. Florida was and is a utopian project, and like all utopias it straddles an immense contradiction of terms in our cultural imaginings. Even in its most glamorous pose, Florida shows an unmistakably seedy underbelly, rife with kitschy air thick as high humidity.
FF: Would you want to be considered a “Florida artist”? What kind of stereotypes does that term hold that you’d be willing to work with or against?
EM: I wouldn’t mind being identified with Florida as an artist. I am a Floridian and some of my work investigates what that identity could possibly represent. How do we develop our sense of unique belonging across a human landscape of suburban sameness? If I could somehow subvert people’s perceptions of Florida, or—better yet—provide an opportunity for Floridians to identify with subversive works of art, to generate feelings of real belonging in such work, I think that would be powerful. I have yet to fully experience this in the work of other Florida artists.
Does that genre truly exist? “Florida artist”—I think of hundreds of seascapes, all basically similar. We don’t see many artists confront the reality of our “plein-air” highways and retail strips, preferring instead sandy serenity and palm-studded sunsets. Even I’m too close to the highway to want to deal with it artistically. Florida is so flat; it’s hard to gain perspective. But it’s the layering-upon the flat landscape with our tacky, sunburned, bizarre people and history that interests me.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t want Florida to prevail ultimately over my appellation, as I believe I can create curious and compelling images anywhere.
FF: Who are the three women in this piece. What do they mean for you?
EM: Simultaneously they represent real women in my life, very tenacious feminine role models, and very abstract ideals. However, I think the personal associations I have with these figures is irrelevant. They function not as women but as images of women, ritual placeholders in advertising space.
FF: Your work seems to use women as subjects frequently. Do you think there is a feminist aspect to your work? How does that come into play in Orange Blossom Special?
EM: There is the maternal aspect, of course: Florida is my figurative birthing ground. I slowly awakened to the world in hot bayside garages, on luminescent keys, by citrus trees and tannin streams. Fruit and water, feminine expressions.
I think Orange Blossom Special casts its actresses in an enigmatic role. These figures signal the ripeness of their territory, which, try as you might, you may never precisely locate. And from impenetrability, the appearance of power.
Emile Mausner studies painting at the University of Central Florida after completing her scholarship in art history and criticism at New College in Sarasota. View more of her work here.