Night Light for Little Girl
30" x 22" (with ruffles)
Inspired by the idealized imagery in advertisements, catalogs, and school readers, Suellen Rocca developed her own pictorial language in the form of glyphs. Much like the hieroglyphics floating in the Egyptian art she observed during her visits to the Art Institute of Chicago, Rocca’s icons of purses, palm trees, crossed legs, diamond rings, bananas, and dancing figurines punctuate her paintings. These glyphs became the building blocks of her work and were often associated with notions of romance and feminine happiness promised in the popular culture of the times: look beautiful, attract a man, get a sparkling diamond ring, and live happily ever after.
In 1969, when she made this painting, Rocca was exhibiting in shows around the United States, while also a working artist and the mother of a four-year-old boy and a one-year-old girl. The children would take long afternoon naps which allowed her to paint in her studio. Rocca used the imagery from her children’s books and in the case of Night Light for Little Girl, she painted the silhouette of a lamb lamp commonly found in 1960s nursery rooms. The lamb is rendered in soft, dream-like, pastel tones and is crowned with a lamp shade adorned with a cartoon figure of a yawning little girl in a modest blue dress and curly blonde locks. The painting itself is bordered with a ruffled, blue ribbon, as if created for a child’s bedroom.
In Night Light for Little Girl, Rocca pairs the sweet dreams of childhood with the realities of womanhood. The lamp is surrounded by clouds, some with a floating bare foot, dropping yellow and blue drops of water—reminiscent of acid rain—and small, cartoon penises. Rocca often paired a hard, phallic object, such as a finger or palm tree, with a soft counterpart such as a cloud or tuft of hair. The painting is a witty commentary on the prescribed realities of bedtime for the modern woman: the innocent days of lullabies and bedtime stories under the soft glow of a lamb lamp are no more.
The Bill McClain Collection of Chicago Imagism
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art