Meegan Barnes - Baby Got Back
Highland Park, California
When I first came across Meegan’s sculptures, the soundtrack of my life started playing Sir Mix-a-Lot’s hit “Baby Got Back” in my head. Here I was standing in a gallery space, surrounded by disembodied butts, silver and gold ones, little miniature butts you could fit in one hand, giant butts that required two people to move and each butt had a unique swimsuit to go accompany it; some were recognizable like the Fendi & LV patterned suits, others were a bold mix of colour and designs that yelled “Look at me”. It was in that moment, i knew I had to photograph the person behind the booties!
I was pleased to learn Meegan lived about 10 minutes from me, which made this studio visit very easy. I drove over to her home studio in Highland Park, where she converted a small room into an shrine to the booty, complete with kiln, where she glazes and fires all her pieces. Her workshop is filled with pop-culture references and images of butts! A vision board to the derriere. In the rest of her home, there was no way to avert your gaze from a buttock. There was not a bare spot that wasn’t filled with a sculpture, a painting, poster, or sketch of a butt. I asked how Meegan to share her background with me and to answer the only question that really mattered “Why butts?” Meegan’s worked in media as an illustrator and designer for Paper & Vibe magazines; she then moved into fashion design for Levi’s as a trend forecaster and then eventually founded her own line Femme Arsenal. It was all going great, but she found herself burning out. Meegan decided she needed a change; she sold her interest in her company, and took a 4 month break, moving to Brazil, where she surfed, painted, and regained the passion to create that she had lost. It was during this trip that she was inspired by the body confidence of all the women there. “Butts of all shapes and sizes were flaunted and appreciated.” Barnes started working with clay, and butts just seemed the natural vehicle for that medium.
I visited Meegan’s studio a 3 times over the course of a few weeks, and was able to see a booty come to life. Each booty starts as as two massive hunks of clay that painstakingly rolled and pounded out to form the heavy base of the thighs. It takes a few hours to shape and form them into something recognizable. Meegan hollowed out bottom halves of the buttocks; out in order to make sure they dont collapse on themselves. The next crucial step is placing the tops of the butts and blending the separate pieces together; if they are not blended properly, they will crack and break apart during the firing process in the kiln. After Meegan carefully blends the pieces into each other, she then drapes a large section of clay, cut out in the shape of a swimsuit, over the booty. It’s at this point, the clay needs to dry out a little before she can apply the glaze and paint.
On my next visit, Meegan meets me at the door to the studio. Her eyes gleam with excitement. “This is the fun part!” she exclaims. “I get to design the swimsuit, give the booty a personality and attitude.” This booty is destined for a show in the coastal town of Santa Cruz, California; so Meegan decides on a wave motif mixed with bright colours, zebra stripes and checkers. Each colour needs to be applied, and dried, and applied 5 more times, to get that glossy lustre and sheen that her pieces are famous for. This is a time consuming and laborious process; that takes the better part of the afternoon; but time passes quickly as we listen to her music collection; rock & hip hop playlists that take us back to the early 90s; that make me remember the outrageous music videos filled with shaking booties.
After signing her name, the butt goes in kiln to get fired; we head over to her living room to chat some more. Meegan describes her work as “Bold & unabashed. Feminine & feminist, it’s got grit and it’s got glamour.” She gets inspiration comes from pop culture, design history, current media personalities and trends; which she incorporates tributes and shout outs into many of her designs. On occasion, she will collaborate with a client who may want specific a swimsuit or patterns “tattooed” on the flesh of the booty; but for the most part, Meegan creates whatever she feels is right in the moment and speaks to her booty sensibilities. Check out more of Meegan’s artwork on her website.