Important Art by Isabel Oliver
Happy Reunion focuses on a group of eleven women sitting in a living room, who laugh and converse with each other. Behind them, a transparent wall reveals surreal scenes taking place in the outside world. The same scene appears in the window to the right of the canvas. While the women are painted in muted tones, the exterior scenes are depicted in vivid and bright colors, featuring a giraffe on fire with flames burning out from its back and neck; a lake, green hills, yellow sand, and white abstract forms resembling horses. In the left corner of the foreground, a red-cloaked skeletal form appears with flowing blond hair and three hands, two skeletal and one made of flesh holding an old-fashioned hourglass that shows that time has run out.
Happy Reunion is a central image of Oliver's iconic series The Woman (1970-73), which examines different aspects of femininity in Franco's Spain. Here, the happy women in the home are presented in stark contrast to the surreal and unsettling scenes of violence and despair in the world outside. Depicted as oblivious to the dangers of the "real world" the women sit in happy ignorance ensconced in their domestic sphere, even as an unsettling figure encroaches on them. By depicting how some middle-class women shielded themselves from reality, Oliver visually draws the viewer's attention to the fake appearance of normalcy that women were expected to maintain.
The Woman series addresses such popular issues as physical appearance (beauty), childhood, and domesticity by manipulating common media generated images. Oliver used her art to make powerful feminist and political statements about the ways Spanish society repressed women during the turbulent years of General Franco's dictatorship in which this series is set.
Oliver positions her self-portrait in contrast her work Happy Reunion taken from a popular magazine. Both images of artist and middle-class women are in the same black and white tones, suggesting they were produced for the same mass media. Yet, the distance between the two images suggests a temporal difference, between present (receding into the past) and the potential future, which the artist represents.
In Beauty Products, a woman with short dark hair and gray-toned skin, dressed in a pale pink long sleeve jumpsuit stands with one arm raised above her head in an arcing gesture while the other, bent at the elbow, is extended straight out from the shoulder. In her hands she holds a pink colored scarf which flows in an elaborate swirling gesture behind her. Set against a white and yellow vertical striped background, she towers above a ground filled with brightly colored beauty products, such as face powders, perfumes, soaps, and bottles of nail polish.
Many Pop artists re-purposed household products in their work to comment on commercialized society, while in Oliver's work beauty products become a vehicle for visualizing the pressure such commercial products impose on women. In Beauty Products, a woman seems to rush forward, perhaps in an effort to stay on top of the latest styles, brands, and beauty trends that appear available in a never-ending supply. Referencing the oppressive pressure placed on women to achieve the societal notions of beauty and perfection, this woman seems harried and overwhelmed in her attempt to achieve this impossible task. This work demonstrates how Pop art effects could be applied to critique any number of issues in popular culture, some even from a feminist point of view. Describing the motivations behind this work, Oliver has stated she wanted to draw attention to, "...women's struggle against discrimination in their lives and in all spheres of society."