Who will be crowned Miss America tonight? LA artist Daena Title will have to watch along with the rest of the world to find out. But one thing she knows for sure. Whoever she is, her mouth will be open. Wide.
Exploring the current fascination with "Toddlers & Tiaras," Title came across the photograph that became "an obsession" and the inspiration for her painting of an exultant twenty-something who has just been declared "Winner!"
"My first reaction was steeped in the sexual politics" of growing up feminist. "Why is she so happy? What has she accomplished?"
But then it hit her. The sheer "visceral emotion." Title realized "There are few places where a woman can triumph in public" like "the touchdown dance that men do on a football field." She was hooked.
Interestingly Title reveals "the moment of highest emotion" but "no names, no sash IDs," not even which pageant the winner is from. The results? Both individual and universal.
The challenge was to capture "the movement" and "the energy and exuberance" in a work of art "made by hand" with the "human touch" in our digital age. "Which colors and compositions express those emotions?"
The series unfolds in a thrilling natural progression. "That Crowning Moment" is all about anticipation. "You can feel the space between her head and the crown – she's been waiting forever and any second now it's going to actually happen!" Last year's winner "fades away" as she turns over the tiara.
"Fists and Confetti" captures the "moment of anointing." It's as if "the confetti bursts out of her" and the winner practically crows! Title emphasizes the clenched fists. "The drama is that she's about to step out on her own."
Next comes "the moment after." "Point and Stare" basks in the glory of the triumphant runway walk.
With a background in acting, Title is fascinated by the one physical gesture that tells all. From the neck down, the bodies of these young women are uniquely expressive. But what really struck the artist is what all the winners have in common.
That wide open mouth. "In moments of pure joy everybody's face looks the same."
At her latest show at the Koplin Del Rio Gallery in Culver City, Title was insulted when a man called one of her subjects "a bubblehead."
"I've come to respect these ladies and the benefits pageants offer" such as scholarships and skills cultivated by the extensive vetting that takes place off camera. "It's a huge job interview for qualifications like grace under pressure, poise, the ability to represent a company and travel."
Besides. "You don't blame basketball players for being tall. Why shouldn't these women take advantage of opportunities that are only available if you're beautiful?"
But "I'm not convinced pageants are good for the audience. The unintended message that women should put a lot of energy into out-prettying each other to get a prize isn't constructive and doesn't do these gals justice."
Title learned from interviewing contestants that a genuine "sisterhood" lives on beyond the pageants. She herself studied art history at Wellesley College, one of the "Seven Sister" Colleges.
Her father "hated his job " and would "come home and paint to stay sane." He profoundly influenced her passion for art.
So did her face blindness, a condition that made her feel growing up like she was in a "fog of people" whose features she couldn't quite make out. "But the faces in the pictures at the museum were permanent. They were my friends."
She recalls a friend of her brother's who enlisted in the army after watching the Miss America pageant. "Later he became a Vietnam veteran against the war. " But the power of the pageantry was not lost on her.
Title is married, and the mother of two sons. Her family supports her work. "I think feminism is second nature to them" but she is concerned about the "hook-up culture" and how it will affect the boys' relationships with women.
Title is at work on more paintings in the series. "Art raises a question." The artist's "contribution to society is to become part of the discussion."
Tune in tonight to see the Miss America who is about to be crowned the winner – with her mouth wide open. And then go see Daena Title's art - with your eyes wide open.