Text by Rachel McDermott
Artists often look to literature as a contextualising medium. Suppose An Eyes is a culmination of a group reading of Gertrude Stein’s modernist text Tender Buttons (1914) by artists Lady Lucy, Jacqueline Utley and Flora Whiteley. A modernist achievement and simultaneously an impressive failure, Stein’s experimental text explores objects, food and rooms, in a way that defies conventional syntax. Approaching the text’s centenary, these three artists reflect upon Stein’s textual abstraction in relation to their own visual practices.
Entering the gallery, one is stuck by the domesticity of the space. A series of small paintings are hung upon white walls with blocks of colour. The coloured sections of pale pink, burnt sienna and gold give the impression that the paintings are hung upon a wall in the home, and a television and room divider further emphasize this illusion.
Lady Lucy’s paintings of women gaze out toward the viewer. A painting style reminiscent of post-impressionism, referenced in the work Bonnard Picasso Cezanne: Interior Harlequin Girl (2013), Lady Lucy’s female figures appear to be on the verge of speaking. In this painting, the female is clothed in what one assumes to be period dress. She leans head in hand upon a table, a look of dissatisfaction and sadness across her face. The typical harlequin diamond pattern is at the forefront of the picture-plane, referencing the mute jester character conventionally used in pantomime.
Jacqueline Utley presents a series of small canvases and works on paper, of painted interiors and still life. Her subtle use of pastel colours and undefined forms site the paintings between reality and fiction. In some, we gaze upon a scene in which well-dressed women recline on a sofa, or sit around a dining table, but these figures always remain distant and obscured. Nodding toward the late 19th century style Intimism, Utley’s paintings are a window into a time and place, but are shrouded in vagueness. In Meeting at Nancy’s (2013), we observe three women. The scene is implied through a mirror and picture hung upon an absent wall, a table adorned with cosmetic products and a chair in which one of the figures sits. The women appear to be in conversation; one gestures with her hand, another sits with arms folded. There seems to be an implied narrative, one can almost hear the conversation but the words remain absent.
Flora Whiteley’s paintings remove objects and figures from context instead siting them within abstract space. A lusciously painted bed draped with sheets hovers in pink space, casting shadows upon nothingness. In another work, titled Shake of the Head (2012), a side profile of a classical bust floats against an abstract backdrop of colour and texture. Whiteley also presents a painted room divider. The imagery upon the four sections displays a sumptuous interior. Lavish furniture and an ornate chandelier sit alongside a display cabinet and well-crafted table, but an analogue television and obscure objects atop the table re-contextualise the scene. Void of figures, this painted object seems to act as a mirror, the viewer becoming the inhabitant of the room.
Just as Stein’s Tender Buttons is celebrated for its textual abstraction, the abstraction applied by Lady Lucy, Utley and Whiteley is not what we see on display rather it is the implied meta-narrative that draws these works together. Deconstructing object, time and place, Suppose An Eyes acts as an unwritten narrative, a collection of half-remembered memories and timeless time. Where Stein creates language void of meaning, Suppose an Eyes creates meaning void of language.
Suppose An Eyes is a travelling exhibition, beginning at Galerie Futura, Berlin (11 May – 14 June 2013) then Transition Gallery, London (20 July – 11 August 2013). It is on display at Vane, Newcastle until 26 October 2013.
Rachel McDermott is an Artist and Writer based in Newcastle upon Tyne.