Sophia Andreotti and Edouard Baribeaud : Safe Spaces

9 November - 20 December 2022

Private View: Tuesday 8th November 2023  6:30-9pm  London (Wandsworth)


When do you find time to daydream and rest? When do you feel most free? Safe Spaces, Edouard Baribeaud and Sophia Andreottis first solo exhibition with Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, was born out of an intense period of introspection, prompted by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns while also reflecting on their experiences of living and working together as a married couple and artist duo. The resulting series of delicate watercolour paintings, capturing moments of intimacy and repose, explore notions of healing, care and autonomy.
Edouard and Sophia’s collaborative process is best described as a continuous creative dialogue. They share their lives as well as their studio space and see no division between the parts they each play in making the work. ‘People often want us to clearly define what each of us do,’ explains Edouard. ‘In the past, Sophia, as a woman, has been positioned as a muse, but that’s a very limiting perspective. We each inspire each other; ideas flow between us.’ The works in this series pay tribute to that trust and mutual admiration while also playing with traditional power dynamics in order to open up more fluid ways of seeing.
Though there are several portraits of Sophia in which she appears nude, they depict moments of deep internal reflection or turmoil, while the works depicting Edouard are both more sensual and exposing. In one painting, for example, we encounter Edouard lying on a sun bed. He is at rest with his eyes closed, but his pose – with one arm bent up behind his head and his hand resting over his crotch – appears  somewhat staged, while the bird’s eye perspective and flat green background create a slightly surreal or even uncanny atmosphere. In this way, the painting draws our attention to the politics of representation. Edouard’s pose recalls countless depictions of the female nude throughout art history, positioning him – the male figure, the ‘conventional artist’ – as the muse, deified as a passive object in the gleaming spotlight of the sun. Meanwhile, Sophia, in the painting The Two of Us, appears almost defiant in her refusal to perform for the gaze. She is naked, seated in a slumped position, her head turned away and eyes downcast. Here, the light that falls across the front of her body has a more subdued, almost wavering quality suggestive of an internal space and an atmosphere of melancholy.
Indeed, many of these works reflect on a period of intense struggle. Five years ago, Sophia was diagnosed with a chronic thyroid disease which has had a huge impact both physically and emotionally. ‘I didn’t feel safe in my body any more,’ she says. ‘I had to learn to rest and to be tolerant with myself which can be difficult in a world that often measures success through productivity.’ As a result, she and Edouard found themselves discovering new beauty in moments of stillness and calm. In one work, we glimpse a chef lying on his side on the doorstep of a building, seemingly enjoying a brief moment of peace, while in another a man in a cafe stares into the middle distance, momentarily carried away into a world of his own.
The most evocative works, however, are those set in the couple’s intimate, domestic spaces. The painting A Sunday Afternoon captures Edouard lying naked on his side with his back to us, his head propped up by his hand as he gazes out of the window at the bare silhouettes of trees. The room is filled with a soft, rose-tinted glow as if the sun, beyond the frame of the painting, is setting in the distance while tactile details – the curves of his body, the creases of the bed sheets – add to a dreamy sense of languor that pervades throughout the series. As with all of the works, the scene is painted in watercolour on rice paper, which the couple brought back with them from China following an artists’ residency. The pigments of watercolour paints react in a different way to the rice paper than the traditional medium of ink, by diffusing across the surface and creating an almost hazy effect. The paper itself is incredibly thin, but the artists have stuck each piece onto a stretched canvas, creating an interplay between the different materialities – ephemerality and durability, translucency and opacity – that’s emphasised by the borders of raw linen. As Sophia notes, ‘The works are caught between two mediums – drawing and painting – just as the scenes depict the moments between activity and inactivity.’
This duality is central not only to these paintings, but also to the couple’s approach to making art. A feeling of safety is found, they seem to say, not in imposed definitions or fixed boundaries, but in fluid spaces, in creativity and love, in the quiet moments we snatch for ourselves and share with others.