The last naked woman Mitzi Bernard cut from a playboy magazine seems to defy gravity. She hangs suspended by glue in a precarious flying backbend on lower lobe of an insect’s wing, wearing only her Keds. And a smile.
The image is just one piece of the hundreds cut from vintage Playboy magazines to create her most recent collage, which Bernard calls Evo-Lution.
“It’s all about the evolution of women- the growth of women” Bernard says of the piece, “but it’s bizarre,” she giggles. Indeed, the cut-outs in the piece depict a naked, blonde Dorothy, perhaps taunting the Wizard, and a disembodied bottom wearing red hotpants. She threw in one man, naked but for his tan lines and his revolver. (No, really, it’s a gun.) But that’s the close-up ensemble. If you step away, the whole piece metamorphosizes into a triumphant butterfly. The story emerges, not unlike her own.
“It’s been a -well- a difficult time for everyone,” she says quietly, looking skyward. Almost a year ago, she was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. She underwent radiation. While she was undergoing treatments she learned that her father had taken a bad fall, developed a hematoma and needed to be hospitalized. It was there that he contracted COVID-19, which attacked his kidneys, his lungs and his heart. He died in June.
Bernard cocooned. She continued to work from home at her job as Chief of Staff to Maryland Delegate Sandy Bartlett. But she set aside her scissors and baskets of paper body parts and sunk into the comfort of family: her husband, daughter, three dogs, a few cats and two horses – one a docile rescue, the other, charged with fury.
Rachel, Bernard’s Belgian/Thoroughbred was the model for “Female Fury”
And she focused on healing.
“My dad always told me that challenges build character and throughout my life I’ve tried to draw from that. Now I try to communicate that through my art,” she says.
It’s been only recently she’s re-emerged, one soft wing at a time. She became a juried member of the SoCo Arts Lab. And she went to work on her website, which features other, earlier collages.
There’s “Playboy Stanley,” her dog, whose wild coif is made from cut-out locks of models’ hair.
And there’s “Hawkeye,” the hard-ass, whose feathers stream arms and legs and bosoms.
“Mis-Conception” looms, her raging locks hosting myriads of breasts, thighs and beckoning fingers. A pre-surgical Bruce Jenner peers out from the madness in all of his wholesomeness. There’s a story behind each piece, all surrounding the same theme: the collective journey of women.
“There are misconceptions about us all,” Bernard says of her piece, “Miss Conception.” Her hair is embedded with her so-called sins. Her feathers represent all of her good deeds.
“I love the meaning behind artwork. I want mine to tell the story of women’s rights. Playboy was part of that evolution.”
Playboy magazine was founded by Hugh Heffner in 1953 and became a staple of the sexual revolution. It was criticized by some as degrading to women. Others embraced it as a symbol of sexual freedom.
“We all grew up with Playboy magazine—our dads all had it in their garages. It was perceived as ‘not nice’ and the women were ‘bad.’ My work turns it around to say these are beautiful women,” Bernard explains, “They are strong and powerful. There is more to people than meets the eye.”
It’s a theme that promises to carry her through her come-back.
“So much has gone on – I’ve been so numb,” she says of the pandemic and politics. “But I’m coming around now. I’m happy. It’s time.”
She’s hoping her next piece can portray a black woman, to bring more awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Something up close and cool,” she muses. “I want her to have an expression of sadness. But also- hope.”
Call it the butterfly effect.
Bernard’s work is featured on her website:https://www.mitzibernardclosetart.com/