Meg Langhorne romances nature

Appeared in Fall 2009 Art Lies

Meg Langhorne is inspired by romance novel covers (Courtesy Cactus Bra)

The rape of nature takes a romantic twist in San Antonio artist Meg Langhorne’s “Animal,” featuring exquisite gouache on paper paintings of burly, macho men embracing swooning creatures with deer heads attached to voluptuous women’s bodies. Derived from the covers of romance novels, these paperback book-size works are humorous but also a little sickening. Langhorne, who works in a used bookstore, has developed an appreciation for the artists who create these seductive images for the seemingly endless waves of romance novels washing across the shore of the American imagination.

While widely disdained, romance novels also are among the most wildly popular products of pop culture. Harlequin, for example, publishes 1,200 new titles annually. Romance is a $1.3 billion a year business satisfying 51 million mostly female readers, but the majority of the cover illustration artists are male. The covers are as codified and formulaic as the novels themselves, filled with masculine iconography such as swords, bulging biceps and bare chests.  But Langhorne also sees parallels between romance and hunting, which both require men to use all their predatory skills.

A Fabio-type model with long blonde hair, wearing purple tights and robe, leans over a doe/woman in a green dress against a purple background in one of Langhorne’s untitled works. Another, with what looks like fire in the background, is reminiscent of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler in a clutch during the burning of Atlanta. Giant flowers drift through an idyllic meadow scene with a man licking the neck of the deer-headed woman, who gazes at the viewer with uncomfortable intimacy. Langhorne said she had to change the colors and style of the dresses of most of the images to make them more interesting, since the covers seem as predictable as the book’s plots. Working with extremely fine brushes, she provides rich layers of detail, including the lush landscapes in the backgrounds.

Yet these doe-eyed women usually appear distracted and not all that interested in the attentions of these muscle-bound men. They nibble on leaves or gaze longingly in the distance, perhaps dreaming of big-horned bucks. While men often have romantic notions about nature and our God-given right to be its master, in reality nature is indifferent to the desires and needs of mankind.

If most of these works allude to the anthropomorphosis of nature, then one image suggests the reverse. A man with the head of a male deer stands nobly with one hand on a sword while a comely woman grasps his leg. Nature may often seem a vulnerable victim of man’s desires, but there are times when nature becomes the warrior.

Meg Langhorne showed at the Cactus Bra Gallery

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