Sarah Jane Parton
Marnie Slater and Jessica Reid
The exhibition ‘Painted Faces’ brings together several Wellington artists who have explored the genre of portraiture in their recent practice. Depiction of the female body has played a major role in the history of western art. Since the rise of feminism in the 1970s, the objectification of women in art has become heavily politicised territory. Female artists have often employed the genre of self-portraiture to reclaim their subjectivity. The self-portrait and portrait genres continue to be a source of investigation for contemporary women artists, to tease out the underlying issues surrounding the role of the female artist and their position in society.
This exhibition links artists who explore related territory with the phrase ‘painted faces’ suggesting a level of subterfuge and disguise. The information that we receive in the portraits and self-portraits is carefully considered and mediated; as much is concealed as is revealed. These portraits (self or otherwise) are fabricated and embellished; they explore the realm of the fictional and the make-believe.
Marnie Slater has created a mise-en-scène; as we enter the gallery space, we encounter a bright yellow faux satin curtain lit by a fluorescent tube suspended from the ceiling. This shiny makeshift structure is an elaborate façade; its reverse side is raw and basic—like the backstage of a theatre. In front of Slater’s curtained wall, there is a photograph of a young woman—artist Jessica Reid—who beckons us to enter the space. Her almost clinical attire relates the pristine art gallery to the hospital and surgery, inviting us to consider whether a similar surrender of modesty may be a necessary condition of both experiences. Like a guide or usher, she re-appears again towards the end of the exhibition, helping us to navigate our way around the works on show.
Sarah Jane Parton explores the genre of self-portraiture; she often takes on the persona of the ingénue and references her childhood and adolescence. Kneeling and swaying to the music, the artist appears dressed as a mermaid in a clam-shell paddling pool. Madison’s Lament brings together sources as diverse as Sandro Botticelli’s painting Birth of Venus (1485), Darryl Hannah as ‘Madison’ in the 1984 movie Splash, and the childhood delights of Walt Disney’s animated film The Little Mermaid (1989).
Recent émigré to Wellington (from Dunedin), painter Séraphine Pick has long been mining the territory of the psychologically charged portrait. This exhibition is titled after Pick’s 2005 series of work ‘Painted Faces’ and includes a selection of portraits of imagined women: in one, a hirsute woman in green velvet stands amid a backdrop of exotic flowers. In another a masked woman carries a masked, long-eared lap dog. Unnerving and curious, these portraits are ripe with intrigue and implied narratives.
Louise Clifton’s photographs have a distinct gothic sensibility. In this suite of images, disembodied heads are placed in unexpected domestic contexts such as a microwave alcove, a mantelpiece, alongside a Sony stereo and television. Each face is noticeably cosmetically enhanced with painted eyebrows, full red lips and whitened skin. Rather than seeming to be crime scene photos, however, these photographs are more akin to the black gothic humour of ‘The Addams Family’.