ARTIST: Michelle Leivan


Michelle Leivan is not a stranger to the seveneightfive audience. For several years she’s been a contributor to our ARTitude column, sharing news and insights of Topeka-based art and artists. Leivan is also owner of Art Print Express, which provides art reproduction, giclée printing and framing services. As a painter, she uses broad strokes and bright colors to capture the objects of her work. Lately, the “object” of Leivan’s paintings have been herself.

Starting with her series, #BeingMySelfie, Leivan used inspiration from the social media ubiquity, the “selfie.” Leivan says, “The impressions of digital self-portraits are fascinating to me as being a part of our social media culture. What does it reveal about a person? There are complex human emotions behind each selfie in how it is picked by the ‘artist’ and then how it is seen by the world in which it is shared.” She continues, “I am creating my own ‘selfies’ through the age-old practice of painting, combining the historical journey of the original artist’s self-portrait method and the modern selfie photo. This allows me an expressive visual dialogue on the human condition created by social media and insight on our place in the world at large.”

This expression has evolved in Leivan’s work, bringing her to her latest series, “Fairy Tales & Other Futile Fantasies.” As the narrative of social media has shifted from what could be found in a typical, and now mostly obsolete, family Christmas newsletter (weddings, graduations, new jobs, new house, etc.) to the realm of politics and pop culture, Leivan has inserted herself in these discussions.

You can see her as Lady Liberty or Lady Justice, questioning how we’ve gotten where we are as a society.

You can see all of us as voters in her selfie, complete with straight jacket, stuck between the two former presidential candidates, Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton.

You can see her about to rip her hair out, she is asking, “What are We Doing to Ourselves?” Leivan is holding a laptop, is plugged into a smartphone, wearing a smartwatch and standing on an open book. Legible on the page: “Human Capacity for Jackassery is Universal.” Should she hit the “send” button to post how she really feels?

By definition alone, selfies should be very personal: this is me, and this is my current status. But the culture of social media can connect, polarize, engage and disenfranchise us all equally. Leivan illustrates this perfectly.

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