Artists from Galerie d'YS, Brussels
Manon Bara / Kate Lyddon / Yasemin Senel / Bruno Hellenbosch / Annabelle Guetatra
From the infant’s ability to read two dots and a dash as primitive features barely before its eyes can focus, to the instinctive imagining of the unseen correspondent or the speaker on the other end of the line… a compulsion to look at our fellow beings unites us. How can one not take an interest in faces, real or represented?
Laura Cumming, 'A Face to the World', 2010
Historically, portraiture has endured various strains of antipathy and, consequently, face painting’s position in the grand art hierarchy is well below battle scenes and even bathing nymphs. Today, high profile, non-photographic portraiture is generally reserved for champions of industry, politicians or royals and stylistically, old-fashioned classicism or ‘looks like a photograph’ photorealism continue to hang around this kind of portraiture like a bad smell.
Contemporary art does, however, offer the stirrings of something more adventurous. Present day theories of 'nothing is true, everything is permitted' means that ideas of the real have flown the coop. Now, what is real/what is imagined is blurred, smeared and re-configured within an art soup of endless possibilities.
Face to Face, a two-part exhibition at Gallery d’YS, Brussels and Transition Gallery, London, loosely responds to ideas around portraiture. But these current face-paintings are far from the reactionary offerings of the BP Portrait Prize. They are, instead, cut through with imaginary musings, depictions and narratives. As one of the artists showing in the Brussel's leg of the show, Georgia Hayes, writes:
'Everyone looks on and at everything. Almost everything is possible. All worlds, memories and means are there to be plundered. I aim to paint with a freedom and fluidity that allows for unpredictable changes and I hope that something surprising will happen.' This 'dipping in and out of images' is evident in Hayes's work, which moves from Boxer Kicking Boxer through Egyptology to Café Dogs.
There are five artists showing in Face to Face at Transition Gallery. Yasemin Senel disrupts the iconography of myths to make them give up the ghost in the jubilant act of painting, with the inclusion of birds lending the work a shamanistic quality. Manon Bara overworks the embellishments of her subjects so that they become obscured behind their painterly bodyworks, the work being as much about the painting itself as about the 'subject'. Bruno Hellenbosch depicts intricate universes that bring to mind fairy story, gothic landscapes suffused with an overgrown, overblown, out-of-control nature. Annabelle Guetatra makes intricate and sexually explicit drawings whose 'ink on a pin' aesthetic is imbued with a haunting melancholy. Kate Lyddon’s paintings, which mix collage and sometimes synthetic hair, have a theatrical quality. Her figures, often dancers or gymnasts, are presented within a scenic arena. Lyddon states that depicting a moving body lets her be open and offers multiple possibilities for depicting her subjects.
The Face to Face artists are thus very far removed from any notions of staid classicism. More like 17th Century pirates, they plunder their iconographic booty of representational imagery, picking out any particular diamonds that catch their eye, to re-imagine, re-boot and re-assert a contemporary version of portraiture, which sparkles, surprises and informs with a complexity as varied as the subjects they are representing.
Alex Michon August 2011