Text: Susie Kahlich
Talking to the artist Mia Funk is a slightly unsettling experience, like being surprised by fizz in a drink you thought was flat. It’s a bit of a shock at first, but then you realize it’s a pleasant shock and yes, you will have another glass of that, please.
And that’s how it is with Ms. Funk. Very direct and extremely articulate, she throws you right off balance the second she starts speaking, but leaves you wanting more. An Irish-German Chinese-American, she physically resembles the Chinese side of her family but, although born and raised in Seattle, her 10 years in Ireland and over a decade in France has inflected her American vocabulary with a hybrid accent that comes across as vaguely German.
And for all her intensity and intelligent observations about art, history, film, pop culture and literature, there exists an underlying social satire that is dark and deliciously addictive yet playful, like a soda designed by Edward Gorey: exotic and mysterious, probably poisonous, but delightful nonetheless. In other words, an unexpected fizzy drink.
It’s this heady mix of playful intelligence and social commentary that runs through her work. Trained at the Ateliers Beaux-Arts, Paris, Ms. Funk’s work has garnered numerous awards and recognition. Winner of the 2009 Prix de Peinture at the Salon d’Automne Paris, she was also a finalist in Sky Television’s Art Competition London 2010, shortlisted in The Guardian Newspaper’s London Lives Competition 2010, nominated for the Celeste Prize 2010, a finalist in Aesthetica Magazine’s 2010 Creative Works Competition, and was specially commissioned to create a piece for the 2011 Guinness Cork Jazz Festival.
Her work is almost meta in nature: art about art, paintings about painting: the artistic process, inspiration, the artist as brand, artist as both destroyer and giver of life. She wonders on canvas what might have transpired between Lucien Freud and Queen Elizabeth II when HRM sat for Freud’s portrait of her; or Bacon’s process of consuming his own subjects in his work; or the fever dreams of Tennyson’s lamenting mariners in his poem The Lotus Eaters.
These are clever visual puns, told with a classically-trained hand. Older works feature primarily oil on canvas, but her Lotus Eaters series incorporates a technique that predates oil painting called succhi d’erba, used originally for applying pigments to tapestries and for dying kimonos, while her newer works feature a mixed technique using antique wallpaper and artisan paper with acrylic and gouache.
Ranging from outright funny (Lucien Freud and Queen Elizabeth II sit naked on a couch, watching TV together), often macabre (Francis Bacon’s studio transformed into a slaughter house), and always incisive, and contemplating everything from the pitfalls of artistic fame (Andy Warhol wearing a “visitor” badge), to artistic persona (she’s looking at you, Jeff Koons!), Funk’s work encompasses every aspect of the artistic process, from artist to art appreciator: her “audience” series features English authors, the members of JFK’s Camelot, or famous artists seated together in a darkened theatre, watching you watching them watch you; for what is an artist but an observer of observers observing art?
But what these works are not is celebrity worship. About her portraits of Bacon and Freud, Funk explains “Here are these two artists with an almost violent relationship to their subjects, where they practically cannibalized the subject in the act of painting them; I was interested in the idea that something must die in the creative process for something new to be born. But if they [Bacon and Freud] didn’t have interesting faces, I wouldn’t have painted them anyway.”
Funks’ paintings, like her conversation, are interactive, all-inclusive. A response to the response to art, a pleasantly shocking, surprisingly tasty experience that draws you in, gets you thinking and stays with you… long after you’ve swallowed the last drop of that fizzy drink and, before you know it, you’re hooked.