Clicking through Leah Goren’s artwork evokes a very specific scene; it’s a beach, early summer in mid fifties California. Women lounge on the sand in pastel shades of newly fashionable bikinis, there is a travelling circus set up nearby and the war is far enough in the past for everyone to be enjoying frivolities but not so distant to be completely removed from memory; there is yearning in their faces to return to the carefree naiveté of what came before.
Specific, like I said, but this is Goren’s appeal. The Brooklyn based illustrator and surface pattern designer has garnered a large online following for her bright, hazy and slightly melancholy renderings of flowers, women, cats, tigers and abstract patterns across a range of mediums.
Goren, whose mother is a painter, grew up drawing and painting. At 16 she decided to funnel her creativity into a career choice and studied at The Parsons New School of Design. She is primarily an illustrator, although her latter day Matisse like images have been applied to ceramics, zines, bags, soap, scarves and clothes. In fact Goren first came to prominence through her Etsy shop selling dresses, tops and bags. Interest in her developed from there and sparked a blog, a Tumblr, a website and eventually collaborations with companies such as American retail behemoth Anthropologie.
It is tempting to lump Goren in with the twee and somewhat vapid deer/owl/cat/gingham/pastel/vintage bicycle trend in art and style that is pretty much the bread and butter of e-commerce sites like Etsy, but I don’t think that would be fair. There is something appealingly subversive underneath the sweetness of Goren’s illustrations.
Like I said when I set the scene, there is something in her work that yearns for that state of carefree naiveté but is aware that it is a fantasy far removed. Take for example the ‘Sad Girls’ Zine that Goren collaborates on, described as ‘featuring work by girls who make things and have lots of feelings’. It is a wry and visually eloquent examination of the anxieties and questions raised from living as a modern woman. Look too, at the faces of the women Goren paints, they seem perturbed or serious, reminiscent of a nineteenth century daguerreotype where the subject had to hold a stern expression for the minutes it took to immortalize them in print.
Perhaps most striking are Goren’s ceramics featuring naked ladies with all of their ‘pink bits’ out (they are painted in a vibrant shade of pink). The women stand together holding hands; they have full bushes, broad hips and thighs that touch. The ceramics they are painted on are asymmetrical and lumpy, as if Goren is trying to recreate the tactile feel of the pot’s subjects. Although it shouldn’t be, this is a revolutionary act in a world where a woman’s Instagram account is taken down because a picture of her in her underwear features some of her public hair peeking out of the side. Goren’s work is both articulate and subversive, but you have to look twice to notice it.