Blog / 2021 / Art Mommy

May 17, 2021

Jill Biden’s Valentino Rockstud Pet tote, photo by Carlos Barria
Jill Biden’s Valentino Rockstud Pet tote, photo by Carlos Barria

First Lady Jill Biden was recently spotted with this custom Valentino Rockstud Pet tote featuring the letter J along with portraits of her two dogs. The image was designed by illustrator Riccardo Cusimano and then printed on the leather bag.

pet portrait, cocker spaniel with a bone
Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on canvas bag
15 x 19 x 5 inches

I love the idea of showing your pets some love in this way, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a twinge of “really?!”

old woman with her favorite chicken, painted portrait
Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on canvas
13 x 12 inches

I’ve been painting beloved animals on purses for over a decade, and I even hand-paint them directly on the canvas bag, making my totes one-of-a-kind.

painted portrait on a canvas bag
Gwenn Seemel
David and Pookie
acrylic on a canvas bag
14 x 20 x 4 inches

Plus, sometimes I portray people as well as their favorite animals, like the image of my grandmother and her chicken or this one of my sweetie and his friend Pookie.

a canvas tote bag with the portraits of a black woman and a white woman painted in acrylics
Gwenn Seemel
Smiley and Amanda Devecka-Rinear
acrylic on one side of a canvas tote
14 x 16 x 4 inches

And of course, I paint people without pets as well. Basically, I’ve been on top of the customized portrait bag game since 2007, when I made a self-portrait tote in order to override my tom-boyish distaste for purses.

painted pet portrait
Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on a canvas pouch
9 x 5 inches

The burn of Valentino finally coming around to the genius of this idea in 2021 is less about some corporation figuring out how to make bank on a concept I came up with back in the oughts and more about the endless crap I got for the concept. One particularly stinging bit of poo came, unsolicited, from a Portland art world commentator whose authority seemed to stem from her being a bigger snob than everyone else. She said:

If I was your Art Mommy, I’d steer you away from painting on bags. They’ll cheapen the rest of your work.

My precise response to this patronizing woman is lost somewhere in the fourteen intervening years of terrible art career advice from pretentious strangers—one of the hazards of being an artist is that morons love to tell you what to do. Still, I like to imagine that this is what I replied:

Far from devaluing my art, my portrait purses could redeem all of painted portraiture, a genre which has been overrun by awkward poses and misshapen babies’ heads. In old Europe and the proto United States, it used to be that commissioning a likeness allowed you to affirm your social standing. These days, the designer handbag has replaced portraiture as the symbol for success, leading me to wonder: how did we get to be so pathetically cookie-cutter?

I’m officially instituting the portraitist handbag, as a clapback at the so-dull designer handbag. My You Bags will simultaneously restore my favorite genre to its past glory and give the victims of fashion’s wasteful trends a break. After all, unlike this season’s It Bag, a You Bag is one purse that can’t go out of style until you yourself do.

a mom with a pet portrait purse
photo by Gwenn Seemel

Or, as in this case with my actual mommy, the bag can’t go out of style until her sweet doggy does!

Art Mommy and her ilk may think they alone know what qualifies as art, but, from what I can tell, the mommy who made me along with the nation’s current mommy are more on the pulse than any Art Mommy could ever be, because my Maman and the First Lady have something that every snob lacks. They have heart! And I’m proud to say my art does too.

For info on commissioning me to make custom art for you, go here!

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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