For many years, Jen Noone believed that if something was pretty, it couldn’t be taken seriously. While studying art as an undergrad at Saint Joseph’s University, the Pennsylvania native even remembers an older artist warning her not to make her work too beautiful. “I never questioned it,” Noone says. “And it stuck.” Until 2015, that is, when the now 32-year-old artist enrolled in the MFA program at American University in Washington, D.C., and began an investigation into consumer beauty products. “I started buying things that were visually attractive to me: translucent fabrics, makeup, body washes, things with bright colors,” she says. “These became my source materials. I asked myself, ‘Why am I drawn to this?’ ” Noone has yet to find a definitive answer, but her search has yielded an eclectic body of sculptures and installations that use ready-made products, such as Essie nail polish and Suave body wash, in jarring and unexpected ways.
Noone, who graduated from American earlier this year and still lives in the D.C. area, recently mounted her largest exhibition to date at the Arlington Arts Center. Many of the included works—such as Strobed and Contoured, a series of garden stones covered in Maybelline Fit Me! foundation applied using Kim Kardashian’s contouring method—draw obviously from beauty culture. (The stones, ingenuously, look like giant makeup crumbles.) Others are more conceptual: her Vanitas sculpture features a rotting cantaloupe sealed under a bell jar, a comment on the futility of anti-aging treatments. Though consumer products are still an enduring fascination for her, Noone says she has been thinking more about nature. “This idea of our planet, our environment, and the state it’s in,” she says wistfully, “and almost wanting to mourn that.”
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