Threesome and 3×3…

Art and auctions, Exhibitions, Paintings and Sculpture, Photography — By on January 14, 2018 at 8:07 AM

Sadie Lee, Ursula Martinez, Roxana Halls and Sarah Jane Moon.

Threesome and 3×3: exploring the gaze and gesture of gay women

By James Brewer

Any eroticism in these works is strictly intentional, says the publicity for the exhibition Threesome. Certainly, this fascinating spectacle is full of imagery with edge.

It is one of two simultaneous exhibitions under the luminous guidance of invited curator Anna McNay that explore  enthrallingly the female gaze. It is bold art that challenges with frontal albeit sometimes ambiguous facial and bodily expression. The lesbian ethic is open and in the light, cool and its interpretation ranging from loving to unsparing.

Amid establishment scorn that displaying the nude female body undermines oft-proclaimed women’s empowerment, the central works presented here speak of unfettered creativity.

Ursula Martinez. By Sadie Lee.

This approach is manifest on the cool white walls of a tranquil and spacious (5,000 sq ft) modern gallery opened in 2015 in east London by Fred Mann, who divides his time between fostering contemporary art and a calling as a disc jockey.  New Art Projects is on mainly residential Sheep Lane, just off the Regent’s Canal, which until it was closed to shipping in the 1960s was a route for timber, coal, building materials and foodstuffs into and out of the capital.

Although in a basement, the gallery exudes an impression of natural light which is perfect for contemporary artwork.

Portrait of Ursula Martinez. By Sarah Jane Moon.

Threesome is a collaborative exhibition by three established women painters: Sadie Lee, Roxana Halls and Sarah Jane Moon. Their bravado is explicit, with their far from bashful representation and re-evaluation of gender and body language.

The ‘queer’ identity of the individual informs their work. Anna McNay says: “These painters engage with the theme of sexuality in singular and compelling ways and offer arresting interpretations of the ‘female gaze’.”

Unashamed of the female body, they parade intimacy before the viewer. Anna McNay says that the show’s title is a coolly sardonic reference to the voyeuristic aspect of lesbian representation, and “any eroticism is strictly intentional.”

For this show the three painted portraits of one another, and a self-portrait. In addition, they each present a fourth work, a portrait of Ursula Martinez, a London based “cult cabaret diva” and film performer whose compelling cameos tease burlesque itself.

In her portrayal of the provocative performer, Sadie presents her reclining naked and with a mirror in which she looks fixedly at her pudendum. Such a rendering re-casts the historically grand canvases of vanitas imagery such as Venus with mirror reflecting on her beauty – Titian, Velázquez, Modigliani, and so on. Rather than picking up on narcissism or self-display, Sadie brings forth the gender confidence of Ursula, who appears near naked in many of her performances.

Roxana Halls with Self-Portrait.

It is familiar artistic ground for Sadie. Her one-woman shows have included include Venus Envy at Manchester City Art Gallery, and A Dying Art – Ladies of the Burlesque at the National Portrait Gallery and other UK venues. She has said: “My paintings are all portraits of real women who display appearances or behaviour that could be considered ‘unladylike’ by society’s notions of convention.”

Anna McNay, curator.

Sadie goes further, questioning whether masculinity and femininity are constructed identities, created and reinforced through elements such as make-up, costume and body language.

Roxana Halls crafted her portrait of Ursula in similar lucid style to much other work on display at New Art Projects. She assembles her structures with great care, tinging the red and green overlay associated with 3D on the upper body, as in her self-portrait. In the pervasive blue background of the latter are three figures based on the way film directors portray gay women, drawn from her investigation of the meaning of cultural trends. For the large oil-on-linen work, Roxana painted the figures from fibreglass mannequins she set up in her studio.

Sadie Lee, Roxana Halls and Sarah Jane Moon.

Roxana has said that her paintings depicting “female impropriety work within the tradition of feminist art to offer a riposte to self-censure.”

In the largest painting in the show, Sarah Jane Moon has Ursula looking slightly ill at ease but unabashed as she perches naked and unflinching on a four-legged wooden stool. It is an engrossing portrait with the sitter appearing both seized of nervous energy and inscrutable. Sarah Jane has a packed diary for 2018 including exhibiting at the Bankside and Mall Galleries and in New Zealand, teaching at Heatherley School of Arts and The Art Academy in London and residential courses in France and Greece.

This exhibition follows in the path of Queer British Art, shown at Tate Britain between April and October 2017. Tate had works from 1861–1967 relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer identities, and marked the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England. Threesome sought to bring this theme right up to date by examining the female gaze in 2017-18, how gay women look at each other and themselves in the current cultural climate.

Living Room. Photo. By Imogen Crew.

This three-themed show is, paradoxically, in two halves. The second is entitled 3×3 and comprises photographic self-portraits by nine female artists, who likewise reject shallow values as they turn their lens on the female gaze and ego.

Concentrating on self-identity, the artists responded to challenges set by curator Anna McNay (who is a freelance art critic and assistant editor of Art Quarterly). The responses, it is said, highlight the spectrum of considerations when, in a world influenced by the history of the patriarchal male heterosexual gaze, a woman who likes women turns her gaze upon a woman to produce an image.

Observe, Examine, Judge. Digital print on board. By Bronac McNeill.

Producing the images – some of quiet domestic poses, others yielding a more penetrating stare – were Emli Bendixen, Imogen Crew, Lisa Gornick, Liz Helman, Rachael House, Marta Kochanek, Bronac McNeill, The Naked Artist-Suzie Pindar, and Sarah Pucill.

Thus, the photographic work Living Room, by the youngest artist in the show, Imogen Crew, offers a relaxed setting which is distinctive in appearing to be ‘unexceptional’ as does With R, by Emli Bendixen, a picture of a woman sitting on a duvet and cradling a child. Stages of Mourning IX, a black and white photographic print from negative by Sarah Pucill, is a touching photographic montage.

Stages of Mourning IX. 2000. Photographic print from negative. By Sarah Pucill.

The most lasting impact of this exhilarating show will prove to be the encounter of the fearless and witty Ursula Martinez with three dynamic, gutsy painters, who rise unsparingly to the challenge of the portraiture parameters they were set.

It brings the narrative of theatre, cabaret, the short film and site-specific installation in which Ursula excels into the artist studio and from there, in celebration out into the public gaze.

It determines that ‘queer identity’ must be accepted as a defining component of modern society, given the global struggle for gay rights and the progress that has been achieved in the UK and elsewhere on civil union in contrast to the repression of homosexuals in many jurisdictions.

While starting from the theme of the female gaze, the exuberance of expressionism that flowers here surges over to contribute to what just a few years ago would have been considered an exotic affair. It opens a plenitude of perspectives upon which to set the eyes.

Early arrivals at the private view.

New Art Projects is to be congratulated on opening its doors to this show for seven weeks, an unusually long residency for a contemporary venture hosted by a commercial gallery.

A special event is lined up for Friday, February 23, at 6.30pm. New Art Projects will host a networking tour by #besmartaboutart, an enterprise which offers a monthly opportunity to meet artists and curators.  Members of the group and those who buy tickets will hear Anna speak about the exhibition and Fred Mann talk about the gallery, the way it works and what is coming up next.

Gallery chief Fred Mann.

Be alert for subtle allusions when perusing the two exhibitions. Interspersed in the submissions are references to movies, such as The Killing of Sister George, a 1960s play and film that did not shrink from the subject of lesbianism.

Threesome and 3×3 are at New Art Projects, 6D Sheep Lane, London E8 until March 4, 2018.

Leave a Reply

IMPORTANT! To be able to proceed, you need to solve the following simple math (so we know that you are a human) :-)

What is 10 + 10 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:

Trackbacks

Leave a Trackback