Queen of Paradis
Hanging on the gallery wall is a striking image: a woman in a blonde wig is standing on an aquamarine airfield runway, her back to us, arm outstretched toward a lime green cutout of an airplane in the distance. She is only wearing a bikini bottom, a translucent plastic skirt, and plastic high heels, all the same luminescent lime as the airplane. Next to her is a matching plastic suitcase. The sky is awash with the brightest, deepest, “Best Buy blue.”
The scene almost seems like clip art, as though it might have been created digitally, or at least shot in a studio. But something about the woman’s shadow is too real; the markings on the runway are too imperfect and tactile. The image might puzzle you if you saw it hanging on a gallery wall. But if you watched the documentary Queen of Paradis, you would know it’s a piece called “Runway” by surrealist artist Reine Paradis, and it was shot on an actual (and very active!) runway in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Queen of Paradis, co-produced by Reine herself and directed by her husband Carl Lindstrom, is a playful and enchanting documentary chronicling the creation of the artist’s second photo series (“Midnight”) ahead of its Los Angeles gallery debut. It’s fascinating to trace her creativity from drawings and maquettes to grueling and mischievous photo shoots at locations across the U.S.A, which Reine chased down with the particularity of a true auteur on a cross-country roadtrip with her husband and camera operator.
I wasn’t familiar with her work before the movie started, but I think now I could easily identify her photos if I came across them out in the world. They are stark, fun, and provocative. Her passion for bright colors feels contagious, like maybe she has the right idea and we should all ditch our navy and grey outfits for a wardrobe that’s “Poster Red” or her signature “Klein Blue.”
As for Reine herself, like many artists, her work is deeply rooted in her personality and worldview. A fun experiment with artists is to contrast the way they speak about themselves with the way they are spoken about by others. “She is absolutely out of her shell," says one woman about Reine. Another describes her art as “scholarly, yet joyful.”
Reine herself gives a more vulnerable, personal take on her career, art, and journey. Yes, she is uncompromising and visionary. But it wasn’t a straight line (is it ever?). Her unique scenes emerge from deep reflection on a blissful childhood cut short by her parents’ divorce. Her imaginative, bold modeling only comes after a lifetime of insecurity and body image issues. She never planned to be inside her own art, she protests, but somehow each piece has become a tiny autobiography, bursting with imagination; surrealism firmly grounded in the wet, salty, rocky, windy world she actually lives in.
Watch Queen of Paradis not just for a behind-the-scenes peek into stunning photo shoots at Joshua Tree National Park or an underground fairylike river in Williston, Florida, but for an inspiring and encouraging look into the world of a young and vibrant creator. Between all that, Reine’s sunny smile, and the movie’s brilliant, synthy soundtrack (also courtesy of Carl Lindstrom!), I suspect this documentary will be buzzing in my brain for quite a while!