While for much of the 20th century it was the status quo to move
away from figuration in order to boldly plunge into the depths of abstraction,
contemporary painting in the 21st century has proven that the figure—be it
human or animal—offers boundless opportunities for ingenuity, narrative, and
expression. At London’s Paul Stolper Gallery
subject matter corrals together three contemporary artists—Susie Hamilton
, Mit Senoj
, and Georgia Hayes
—who share the impulse to
represent living beings. In this new exhibition
, juxtapositions of vibrant, playful creatures,
alongside goddess-like females wrapped in elements of nature, and lone figures
isolated within bold swathes of paint, shed light on the seduction of
figurative painting, and the fruits of its bold manipulations. In anticipation
of the show, Artsy reached out to each artist for insights on process, the
figure, inspirations, and the interplay between their works and those of their
Artsy: In a few lines, can you describe your process from start to
Susie Hamilton: I
draw figures from life—in supermarkets, shopping malls, recently on the streets
of Marrakech and Fez—and because these works are done so quickly, the figures
and the shapes around them are distilled and abbreviated. I value this
abbreviation because it can get to the essence of a pose, mood, or character
and I use it in the subsequent paintings, which are done back in my studio. It
can also push the figure towards simplification, flatness, and abstraction.
Mit Senoj: I work on
80gsm Xerox paper. I use a gillot nib with India ink to draw directly onto the
paper without preparatory drawing; this is essential as it maintains the
fidelity of line. I use watercolor paint, which I then coat with a layer of
shellac varnish and remove immediately so as to only absorb the stain. This
gives the color depths and unites the composition.
Georgia Hayes: I choose a
color to start the painting and the rest of the paint has to work with or
against this overall ground color. I work from memory, drawings, and
photographs of whatever subject has come to the fore…with as much speed and
energy as I can, in order to subvert prior skill and knowledge. With luck
something original and surprising will result. The considered part comes
afterwards from judging what has been done. This usually results in scraping
out and changing parts that don’t work or are clichéd. I am happy for the
history of this editing to remain in the work as ‘ghosts.’
Artsy: What does the figure mean in your work?
SH: The figure in my work is a vulnerable creature
seen in a wilderness (either an impersonal metropolitan wilderness like a
supermarket or a natural one like the Antarctic). The figure is often alone and
depicted in glaring (natural or artificial) light by which it is demolished,
transfigured, exposed. In my work, light is an agent of metamorphosis that can
destroy as well as illuminate, eating away at contours of bodies and objects,
or obliterating their detail.
MS: Human physiology is reconstituted
into something more vulnerable and less belligerent, giving equality to all
GH: The figure is
embodied with a concentration of meaning as it is invested with the feelings
shared by living beings. I think this, combined with the formal qualities of
the work, makes figurative paintings more interesting than pure abstraction or
Artsy: What are your inspirations? Which artists working with the
figure—historic or contemporary—are you inspired by?
I have been
influenced by the small figures in flattened, empty, or minimal landscapes in
Japanese art (Hokusai
’s views of Mount Fuji) and in Chinese paintings such as those of Wen
Zhengming or Ma Yuan...the misshapen and grotesque figures in Northern Gothic
art such as those of Bosch
, and Cranach
. I have also been influenced by the way in which
takes apart the figure, turns it inside out, or
reduces it to essentials (this last quality especially in his “Las Meninas”
Human physiology & natural biology; [artists]: Anna Maria Garthwaite, Hans Bellmer
Most of my
inspirations have come from unknown and often untrained artists, including
votive paintings and the Hadj house paintings, Egyptian and Roman frescoes, and
a lot of Pre-Renaissance art. Matisse
has been an influence in showing the joy of using color boldly.
Artsy: Can you share any insights about how your work might
resonate with or respond to the works of the other artists in the show?
SH: I think that Mit Senoj and I may
share a concern with flattened space and with the single figure in light. We
also seem to use sharp tonal contrasts and bright color. Georgia Hayes and I
both seem to use bright color and flattened space.
MS: I think we connect because we place the figure at the center of
our practice, underpinned with observation. Whether it be an internal vision or
environmental, drawing is at the foundation of its immediate recollection and
is the very thing that is attractive in its telling.
GH: I believe we have a
common interest in finding a way to paint somewhere between representation and
abstraction. We also use bright colors. There may be a common aim in finding a
way to present the familiar in a new and unknown way. For some years I veered
toward abstraction but later on I wanted to get away from a generalized
approach and find ways to show the particular without cliché. We all use the
human figure in our work but in my case my subjects have been interaction
between people, the act of looking, people and things in museums, and animals.
Since the resulting work from these artists is unalike, it will be interesting
to see the differences in this show.