This actually isn't that weird.
The Spice Girls were only wildly popular stateside for a year or so. In late 1996, the garish, cartoon-like, arguably tone-deaf British girl group arrived on a cloud of read-made merchandizing. By mid-1998, we all assumed they had broken up when the redhead left and every used CD store had a Spice Girls stack that dwarfed its rows of Hootie & the Blowfish.
Yet our bout of Spicemania intersected the formative years of countless adolescent girls and effeminate boys. One of those effeminate boys was Terrence Boyd, now a 26-year-old visual artist and advertising brand strategist in Pittsburgh. For six months, Boyd blasted his Spice Girls CDs (yes, he still has them) for up to five hours a day as he completed a series of impressionistic oil paintings of Posh, Ginger, Scary, Sporty and Baby. They are currently on display at The Inn, a city art gallery, along his trove of Spice Girls memorabilia (lunch boxes, dolls, teen magazines, ect.) and photos showing his 11-year-old self dressed up in an orange wig and Union Jack-stamped top.
Noisey: Out of all the things in the world to paint, why the Spice Girls?
Terrence Boyd: It’s not your run-of-the-mill kitschy and ironic thing because the Spice Girls are so faded out. They actually played a really important role in my childhood. If you visit the archive you'll see photos of my entire family putting on concerts while dressed as the Spice Girls in the backyard and having our own exclusive Spice Girls club. It was pretty much the first band that made me enjoy music. I never hooked onto my mom and dad’s record collection. It wasn't until I got my first Spice Girls CD that I really connected with a band. I wanted to do a series of work where I was revisiting some happy memories of mine and I stumbled across memories of the Spice Girls, this nice, preserved part of my childhood.
What about the Spice Girls appealed to you as a preteen boy?
My two guy cousins got me really into them, and I didn't have too many friends growing up. These were my masculine roll models. They both came out about ten years later, but that was how all my peers who I benchmarked manliness by were very much into the Spice Girls. Taylor and Alex, who brought me along for the ride, wanted to be the Spice Girls, so we wore wigs and costumes and dresses and danced around to the whole CD. That message of "girl power" was really important to them as they found their own identities and figured out a way to be proud of that. It really holds dear to my family. It's the one thing all my cousins and aunts and uncles have in common.
Everyone in the family was accepting of a bunch of boys dressing up like the Spice Girls?
My mom is in a lot of photos and performances. I guess I lucked out in that I grew up in a very strong and accepting family. My mom was a big advocate of creative play. She believed that whenever your children are using their imagination, you let them work out that story on their own. You don't tell them what not to do; you don't tell them how to make it better. You let them discover that on their own and you encourage it.
How elaborate were these backyard performances?
We used my mom's old glittery discotheque costumes from the '70s and some leopard print nightgowns. We bought Spice Girls play hair sets. We paid attention to detail for this. It would be my mom, my four cousins and my sister.
I'm surprised this brings up such warm memories because I would think a middle school boy this outwardly passionate about the Spice Girls would be at risk for a lot of physical and emotional abuse. Were you bullied?
It was pretty brutal. I was also a competitive dancer and this jack-of-all-trades arts kid. I think it's all paying off now. I don't feel restricted by any normality that's around me. But, yeah, there were some nicknames. "Gay Fat" was one of them. "Theresa" was another. These kids weren't too creative. Maybe they were jealous because I could talk to the girls [in school] about the Spice Girls.
Your statement says this series is an act of "meditation and reflection." How so?
It was really nice to go into the studio and listen to nothing but these old beat-up, skipping CDs. I limited myself to the [first] two albums and a few singles. After you have a few beers and you are listening to the same CDs for five hours, it doesn't become about the images and the figures [I'm painting]; it becomes about the essence of the memories.
Why blot out the faces and have this impressionistic approach?
I was trained as an abstract painter. I didn't want to capture them too, too well. I have an issue with realism for the sake of realism when you can take a photograph. I was just trying to capture the emotional responses they inspire, the colors, the costumes and the movement I remember. When I remember the Spice Girls I don't remember specific faces but leopard prints and Union Jacks and dark black and sequence and glitter. You're not thinking of spot-on detail when you are listening to a CD without any visual reference. I don't try to paint from memory; I try to paint memories.
Was part of the appeal the wide selection of colors the Spice Girls offered?
Yes, this series marked a new point for me. I was caught up in this dark, repetitive palette of grays and muddy colors. I was painting from really dark points in my life: breakups and family deaths. Art should make people happy; it shouldn't make people pity me. I decided I needed more color. I needed more movement. I needed more action. The Spice Girls came up whenever I was having that conversation with myself. The first thing I did was take a dreary painting [of a girl] and I just slapped a Union Jack on her to set the tone for this new series.
The Spice Girls are not the most critically acclaimed group. Can you defend their music as honestly good?
Not that good. I don't know what it is about them. I could still say they are my favorite band.
Is this the kind of music you always listen to? If I went to you iPod would I find a lot of '90s pop?
No, you'd see mid 2000s underground hip-hop, electronic dance music, some Top 40. My Spotify is all over the place.
I think everyone once really liked a band that they are now embarrassed over. Is generating a cringe reaction part of the intended effect of this series?
I think you inevitably get that when you walk into a gallery and see ten paintings of the Spice Girls.
Who is your favorite Spice Girl?
I was always a Geri Halliwell fan. She was dark and sexy, and I was completely distraught when she quit the band back in '98.