Thursday, February 22, 2007
written by Brian Barr
Andrea Rosen Gallery in Chelsea is currently host to an exhibition of new paintings by British painter Gillian Carnegie. Carnegie is a traditional painter in that she has maintained the use of the rectangle as the picture plane, and paints on stretched canvas, yet still belongs to a continuum of young painters today exploring what it means to be a painter right now. Her themes cover the very traditional realm of landscape, still life and nudes; arguably, the three most prevalent themes in the history of western academic painting. The show is made up of large painterly images of trees and horizon lines, intimately scaled still lifes with the subtle hues referencing Morandi, and small paintings of a young womans naked butt; which I found out later to be self portraits of a kind.
It is from this tradition of western painting that Carnegie’s work stems. It is also this very tradition and her place in it, as well as the place of painting within the context of the contemporary art world that Carnegie is concerned with. She seems fixed on the pairs of binaries within the context of paintings formal properties. The press release issued by the gallery says, “Carnegie explores a place between subject and style, representation and abstraction, depiction and matter.”. While she maintains a high degree of sensitivity and admiration for her own mark and palette, she also creaties bold gestural strokes reminiscent of the Bay Area figurative painters. It appears that her intention is to flirt with the line between painting and image, form and content.
Carnegie's work cannot escape the dialogue about beauty and aesthetics; and I would guess that she is not only not concerned with avoiding this discussion, but very much wants to make paintings in defense of both. Beauty and aesthetic quality are both her greatest strengths and most obvious weakness. The simple fact of the matter is that Carnegie can lay down paint with the best of them, and her paintings are truly beautiful. It would be hard not to be impressed with her technical prowess and mastery of her craft. She has the ability to craft paintings dealing with light, space, color and design, yet I find that at times there is an almost narcissistic infatuation with this ability that gets in her way. It is only in the context of the small paintings of her own ass that the show becomes curious.
Next to beautiful little painting of a vase of flowers in a very subtle pallette is a painting of the artist bent over from behind, leaving me to wonder if it is her intention to objectify herself and Painting all at once? Being a female painter today no doubt versed in feminist theory, Carnegie cannot possibly be ignorant of what it implies to paint a female nude in the position, void of a head, body or any personal signifiers. All that is left is the feminine orifice and surrounding flesh. Yet these images were not created by a man, and what is more, they are self portraits.
Carnegie appears to be claiming ownership of her own self objectifications and the stigma that traditional, self referential painting has become. To explore ones ability to manipulate paint; to strive to create beautiful images through technical mastery has certainly become more than slightly taboo, and still Carnegie has no qualms with trying to “explore the handling of paint”.