Marin County artist Patricia Leeds worked in the commercial photography world for over 25 years, but even she was taken aback by what she discovered recently in a book called Mid-Century Ads.
“These were ads from the 1950s and ’60s,” Leeds says. “I found the ads at first to be pretty funny, the doctors recommending cigarettes and all that stuff. On closer look, I started realizing the impact and the influences of these ads on our society and how it continues to influence.”
Leeds found herself inspired to deconstruct those advertisements in a recently completed series of works entitled “Just for the Record,” which pulls outdated messages from our past into a conversation that touches on modern themes.
Using advertising copy from the past and collaging it with other historical remnants and text from the time, the resulting series calls out the influence of big business inherent in advertising.
This bias regularly celebrated whiteness and the patriarchy, and advertising at the time almost solely targeted white men, who advertisers assumed were the people who had the money and the power to be the consumer.
Even the ads featuring women or women’s products were geared to appeal to men, with sexist language about housework and a narrative that coerced women into pleasing their husband above all else.
“I noticed in these ads a blatant misogyny, racism, xenophobia and disregard for our planet,” Leeds says. “Basically, I took out the subtext and made it the main text.”
To a degree, the works included in “Just for the Record” are whimsical, with images and words juxtaposed in mocking sentiments on the paper. Yet, the legacy of these ads is almost entirely negative.
“It’s important to recognize the past and look at the impact that advertising has had in selling us the values of this country,” Leeds says.
“Just for the Record” was meant to make its gallery debut last year, but the pandemic kept it off the walls. Currently, the art can be seen online courtesy of Seager Gray Gallery as well as on Leeds’ website and Instagram page.
Born in Oakland and raised in Los Angeles, Leeds has been making art since high school. After relocating back to San Francisco to attend college at San Francisco State, she remained in the Bay Area and moved to Marin County more than 30 years ago.
“It’s a beautiful place, I think everybody says that, but I love the beauty here,” Leeds says.
For the past seven years, Leeds has worked out of a studio at MarinMOCA in Novato, and she is on the exhibition team there. During the last several months, Leeds says she has used the lockdown to experiment on a new series of works that focus on climate change and declining bird populations.
“I’ve been very political all my life,” Leeds says. “I would say a lot of my work has hidden messages in it. In the abstract work, which is primarily what I do, hidden under the layers of paint are words that are describing the moment for me.”