Painted Faces at City Gallery

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Media Release: May, 2006. 

Depictions of the female face and body have played a major role in the history of western art. Since the rise of feminism in the 1970s, this depiction has been heavily politicised. 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. The exhibition Painted Faces brings together four Wellington artists who explore portraiture.

The phrase ‘painted faces’ suggests 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 it is revealed. These portraits also explore the realm of the fictional and the make-believe.

This exhibition is titled Painted Faces after a recent suite of paintings of real and imagined women by well-known New Zealand painter Séraphine Pick. A recent émigré to Wellington, Pick has long been mining the territory of the psychologically charged portrait. The paintings in this exhibition present a series of bizarre and usual scenarios: a hairy woman in green velvet amidst exotic flowers, a masked woman and dog, a bare-chested woman with ghostly pale eyes, and a matriarch with a background of shell forms.

Marnie Slater has created a mise-en-scene; as we enter the gallery space, we encounter a brightly coloured yellow faux satin curtain lit by a fluorescent tube suspended from the ceiling. In front of the curtained wall, there is a photograph of a young woman—local artist Jessica Reid—who beckons us to enter the space. Like a guide, she reappears mid-way through the exhibition, helping us to navigate our way around the works on show.

Louise Clifton’s photographs have a distinct gothic sensibility. In this suite of images, with shades of black gothic humour, disembodied heads are placed in unexpected domestic contexts such as a microwave alcove. Each face is noticeably cosmetically enhanced with painted eyebrows, full red lips and whitened skin.

Sarah Jane Parton, who featured in Telecom Prospect 2004 at City Gallery Wellington, explores the self-portrait. She often takes on the persona of the ingénue and there are frequent references to her childhood and adolescence. Her videos are frequently accompanied by soundtracks adapted from the music of the 1980s—Madison’s Lament features a keyboard interpretation of Belinda Carlisle’s 80s hit Heaven is a place on earth.

The Michael Hirschfeld Gallery is City Gallery’s space devoted to the work of Wellington artists and designers.

PAINTED FACES

Louise Clifton

Sarah-Jane Parton

Séraphine Pick

Marnie Slater

Jessica Reid

Michael Hirschfeld Gallery, City Gallery Wellington

26 May – 25 June 2006