I discovered Boxhead in Amsterdam in Outland Store, a tiny gallery space not far from the Red Light District, and I was blown away. This artist, using such a simple concept, seemed to encapsulate every thing I was feeling at that point in my life. I passed it off as a herbal-tourist-reaction, but months have passed and the feeling remains.
In fact, Boxhead gives me a lot of feelings.
Begoña Toledo, otherwise known as Boxhead, cannot remember a time when she didn’t make art. At school in Zaragoza, when most of her friends were playing with dolls, she was drawing. This translated into an interest in fashion when she became older. “Not all the model crap,” she clarifies. “I wanted to make clothes. That’s how I learned to draw the human body, never took drawing lessons, I learned anatomy by copying the model bodies on the magazines to dress them after with my designs.” She studied Fine Arts, in Barcelona before moving to Utrecht to do her postgraduate Visual Arts course, and has now been living in Amsterdam for four years.
Boxhead works primarily with paint on canvas, but she doesn’t limit herself to this medium. “I’m seriously eclectic, I draw, paint, screenprint, make toys, spray, sew… the medium is never the main reason in my work. I use the one that suits better the idea I want to develop.”
Something about her work pertains to categories, being literally ‘put in a box,’ while also defying these categories by denying her audience access to any tangible emotion the subject may be feeling as she walks trough mist, through rain or tears. We don’t know what she’s thinking as she forms part of a manufacturing line, looks down at the landscape around her. We don’t understand – and this feeling is internalised. Do we understand ourselves?
The boxes give these pieces both a private and public life. They are shy and responsive at the same time, protective yet open. We don’t know whether the box is imposed upon Boxhead, or if she is wearing it by choice. We don’t know whether it is a part of her or if she is using it to conceal her true identity. And Boxhead doesn’t privilege us with her subject’s thoughts. It’s a Schrödinger’s cat type situation, in which the subject is both devoid of feelings and overwhelmed, faceless and beautiful, or ugly.
I find it interesting that the subjects are always gendered female, with their typical pocketed dresses and rounded thighs. This speaks to me of a kind of self-awareness, while also conversely pertaining to childhood and uncertainty. According to the artist, Boxhead has “a rebel attitude in the sense of identity.”
Boxhead’s paintings question our notions of identity and self-hood. They speak of gender politics, urban existentialism and consumer culture. They speak, and while I don’t know what they’re saying, exactly, I know I want to listen.
Presumably due to the economy, or some equally romantic starving-artist reason, Boxhead has started selling her paintings through Facebook. I bought a tote. Totes aren’t usually my bag, but this was one of seven, so it’s kind of like I carry my stuff around in my own little horcrux. Which is nice.
I urge you to go check her out before she makes the move to London later this month.
This article was originally written for Autostraddle’s Art Attack month, which was ace. Unfortunately this author was
lazy writing her final year dissertation and failed to submit it in time. Please do ‘head’ on over to Autostraddle and take a look at their fine, punctual submissions.