They range from the state of her fingernails — “They’re a mess; I’ve been tie-dyeing” — to her body odor — “I’ve just been to the acupuncturist and smell like fire” — to her thoughts on a friend’s dress — “Where’s it from?”
It should come as no surprise, then, that her first solo exhibit in London, “Explosure” at Phillips de Pury & Co. through Jan. 27, comprises a series of double-exposed photographs, whose varied subjects include her naked self, her toddler children, wild animals and men in varying states of undress, all imbued with an eerie, dreamlike quality.
Through fusing and layering the images, Gearon has created a collection of unlikely worlds: Sari-clad Indian women wade through water alongside a child swimming in Mexico, ghostlike images of little girls run through alpine valleys and brown bears play with kids by a lake. “I love the element of surprise that double exposure brings, and I do think the best art comes from accidents,” says Gearon during a walk-through of the show with her father, Michael, and various friends.
She admits she likes working with chaos, too. “Double exposure is a mess. Making these photos was a way of untangling the mess in my personal life — four kids, three dads, you know? — and putting order in it.”
This may be her first solo show here (it moves to Los Angeles’ Ace Gallery on Feb. 19), but Gearon, 45, is no stranger to London. A former model-turned-photographer, she was spotted by Kay Saatchi, who was married at the time to London’s legendary art collector Charles Saatchi. Gearon is an Atlanta native and lives in Los Angeles, but she’s always been grouped with London’s Young British Artists, including Gary Hume, Marc Quinn, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. Her career flourished when Charles Saatchi bought Gearon’s early — and immensely controversial — photographs of her naked children, and put them in his “I Am a Camera” show at the Saatchi Gallery in spring 2001. Scotland Yard officers raided the gallery and threatened to seize the photos under antichild pornography legislation. Gearon, consequently, shot to fame.
How times have changed: None of the British newspapers has made any fuss about the naked children in “Explosure,” and so far, the men from Scotland Yard are nowhere to be found.
The recent opening-night fete was a civilized, low-key affair with guests including Kay Saatchi, Hume, Quinn, Annie Lennox, Peter Soros, Amanda Eliasch, Karen Groos, Jessica de Rothschild, Johnny Pigozzi and Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst. Simon de Pury calls Gearon a “21st-century Diane Arbus,” and says he finds her work “very disturbing. She is a gifted and important artist and stands apart from anyone else in photography right now.”
Gearon’s father has a less meta take on his daughter’s work: “She doesn’t shut up. It’s like trying to cap a well.”