Private View: Thursday 3rd of November, 6:30-9pm
Wide-eyed, solemn figures stare out at the viewer from brightly coloured backgrounds, at once bold and spectral, familiar and strange. While Rebecca Brodskis’ previous paintings were based largely on memories of friends or the lingering images of people she passed on the street, these latest portraits are drawn entirely from her imagination, creating a deeper sense of interiority. Let’s talk about you and me; the artist’s fourth solo exhibition with Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery contemplates the ways in which we modify our behaviour in order to align with social expectations and connect with others while sometimes repressing parts of ourselves.
Brodskis’ portraits are the result of the slow, meditative process of oil painting which requires the artist to wait for one layer of paint to dry before she can apply the next. As such, her compositions are precise and graphical in style. Each line is carefully delineated so that as you approach the canvas, the figures are abstracted into shapes, floating within a decontextualised, surreal space. Within this space, social and visual hierarchies are stripped away, and our perspective is refocused on colour and gesture. This latest body of work, however, is unusual in that it shares a warm colour palette of oranges, reds, pinks and yellows, which evokes the idea of an internal, bodily or even womb-like space. At times, this space seems to indicate emotional harmony, while at others, it serves to highlight a disconnect between the external and internal self. In the painting entitled Henrietta, for example, the female figure cuts a somewhat severe silhouette, gazing blanking into the distance while the space that surrounds her is filled with a vivid shade of red, perhaps hinting at some suppressed emotion. The large-scale diptych titled Dinner Party depicts a group of people gathered around a table, though instead of engaging with one another, they appear almost as if they are self-consciously posing for the viewer. Meanwhile, the cool lilac-coloured background adds to the sense of detachment.
Other works play with ideas of mirroring and reflection to explore the ways in which we form connections. In the paintings Safran and Yacine, the figures appear to almost melt into their backdrops while also appearing in dialogue with one another: their clothing, hair and eyes reflecting the same golden orange hues. The clothing and body language of the figures in Another Conversation is similarly synchronised. Though the figures here share the same canvas, they remain contained within their own spaces, separated by a thin border that cuts down the centre of the image with visibly defined ridges. However, there is still a sense of tenderness: their eyes meet across the gap, and their arms cross over the border to touch at the fingertips.
In a series of three paintings titled Secret #1, Secret #2, and The Revelation, Brodskis creates a narrative around self-perception. In both Secret #1 and Secret #2, a veiled figure is seated on a chair, with her back to us, gazing into a mirror. In both reflections, the figure is lifting a finger to their lips, gesturing at the idea of something hidden or unspoken: in Secret #1, the figure’s face is white, and their hand is black; in Secret #2, it’s the opposite. The Revelation depicts the same setting; there is no woman in the chair, however; only the reflection in which the woman appears half white, half black, as if the different parts of her have combined. ‘It’s as if she’s left the real world and jumped inside herself,’ Brodskis says, ‘which is sort of what painting does for me. It’s a kind of therapy or meditation.’
Similarly, the stillness of the image, the smooth surface of the canvas, the balance of shapes and the rich colour tones invite a deep state of contemplation. Though each portrait possesses its own emotional resonance and tension, together, they form a crowd of faces that we are invited to step into and create our own conversations.