Visiting the Justice & Police Museum’s Femme Fatale: The Female Criminal exhibition three years ago, painter Rosemary Valadon was struck by the contrast between the glamourised covers of pulp fiction books and the cold reality of female mug shots.
“I loved the vibrancy of the pulp covers, their teasing wickedness and sense of play,” Valadon says. “They have a sort of innocence.”
Having been regularly drawn to paint women archetypes over the years, Valadon wanted to tackle the notion of the ‘bad girl’. And so she started painting Wicked Women: sexy, rather than sexist, depictions of strong modern-day femme fatales, in the audacious colours and commanding poses of pulp fiction book covers.
Valadon invited the likes of author Tara Moss, actress Rachel Ward and television presenter Sonia Kruger to pose for her. “Instead of comparing the pulp covers with the real criminals of our past, I decided to compare them with contemporary women, and see what has changed in our psyches over these years.”
Valadon chose models that reflected the attitude or look of a particular cover artwork, while some women chose their cover themselves. Socialite Skye Leckie chose the book She Couldn’t Be Good, whose cover features a smoldering blonde in a black dress and heels reclining on a sofa. “I was able to depict Skye’s ‘wicked’ side and her level of confidence and fun.”
As to our enduring fascination with the figure of the femme fatale? “It’s the depth of the dark side which is fascinating,” Valadon says. “That sense of danger and unpredictability."