From far away, Klaire B.L. Pearson's art — specially-designed aprons and dresses — looks like a poppier, brightly-colored approach to feminine garb. Look closer, however, and you'll find something unexpected, even snarky.
"I wanted to battle the notion that women are always supposed to be neat and clean," Pearson said. "I want to show that feminine expectations are absurd."
That's what Pearson shows in "Domestic Sarcasm," her new exhibit on display at The Garage throughout July.
Pearson's dresses and aprons subvert feminine expectations by printing old, blatantly and brazenly sexist advertisements from the 1930s through the 1950s on them and drawing attention to how the advertisements treat women as children while demanding they keep up clean and perfect adult appearances.
Pearson, 32, a recent Master of Fine Arts graduate of University of South Dakota in Vermillion, said the ideas grew out of paintings she had done that paired women in modest "housewife" clothing with more provocative elements.
"They'd wear modest clothes but they'd be grouchy, or they'd wear provocative footwear or fishnets," Pearson said. "A friend of mine called it 'June Cleaver meets Dr. Frank 'N' Furter."
Pearson also cited the book "Houseworks and Housewives in American Advertising" by Jessamyn Neuhaus as an influence. Pearson noted how the author pointed out how the advertisements would treat women as infants while trying to appeal to them to buy their products.
"Some of them are pretty terrible," Pearson said. "In a Kellogg's Pep ad, a girl's boyfriend is cheating on her because she's eating the wrong cereal. Or a Lux Laundry Soap ad, a child asks 'Why is daddy staying away?'"
Pearson said these advertisements would follow the model of "inventing a problem and a solution," while putting expectations of modesty, perfection and cleanliness on women, all rooted in derogatory terms.
"The worst one is a Lysol ad," Pearson said. "Lysol used to be a douche, and there's an ad I've used here that refers to feminine hygiene by saying 'Don't let it destroy your marriage.'"
Pearson decided to use the imagery sarcastically, layering the images over the dresses through silk screening as a way to mock their sexism. Pearson then encourages those who purchase the work to use them for dirty work.
"I want men and women to use them, and I want them to use them to tie- dye or spackle walls," Pearson said. "For women especially, letting clothing inhibiting getting dirty stunts motor skills and prevents them from being as active as their male peers."
Pearson included a few dresses and aprons caked in paint in the exhibit as a way to demonstrate this. One of the paint-battered garments reads, "Be An Artist," taken from one of the old advertisements.
"I would see these advertisements encouraging artistry, but every artist is a man, every model is a woman," Pearson said. "I counterbalance that by making a mess to show how people should use it."
Each apron and dress is unique: The style of the dresses and aprons correspond to the eras from which the advertisements put on them are taken from — a 1940s era dress, for example, uses an advertisement from 1942.
"I mostly stuck to those eras because these are the images that would have influenced my grandmother's generation," Pearson said.
She noted, however, that sexism is still pervasive in advertising.
"There was that 'Bic for Her' advertisements: finally, a pen for my small lady hands," Pearson said. "Or those Hardee's ads. There's a lot of them."
In other garments, she makes amusing juxtapositions, with a "Betty Crocker Page" apron putting the images of ideal cook Betty Crocker next to pin-up model and icon Bettie Page.
"I hope people are surprised by the way the sarcasm comes through up close," Pearson said. "I'm appropriating that '30s, '40s, '50s aesthetic, but when you look closer, the sense of humor comes through."