Brought to life in fleshy, thick impasto daubs, women recline – either alone or in small groups – against messy, painterly backdrops. Their faces, turned toward the viewer, present us with dripping red lips, overly chunky skin and thick spidery eyelashes. Brushstrokes evoke the great outdoors, the tradition of the nude female au plein air, and soft colours bring to mind the dappled sunlight of a balmy spring day. They come in and out of focus against a frenzy of abstract-yet-figurative shapes, daring in their bare skin and sexuality, yet intangible and out of reach, wrapped in their hazy world. Kristin Hjellegjerde London is pleased to present LA-based artist Vanessa Prager’s Soft Serve (12 October – 11 November 2018), a world in which sexuality exists wholly or not at all.
In earlier works, such as the series Dreamers (2015), Prager’s work appeared somewhat abstract up close, while distance between viewer and canvas revealed faces – ostensibly the artist’s own. Fast forward to Prager’s newer works, as evident in In the Pink (2018), and the colour palette shifts from its more sombre tones to lighter ones, while abstract shapes take on a more solid form, a fleshy figurativeness. Together, the effect is of an illuminated pastoral tableau – a dejeuner sur l’herbe vibe with a messy, abstract twist (for, after all, even in Manet’s classic work, the thrill came from that knowing smile his naked female subject gave the viewer – she knew very well that we were gazing upon her naked form). Prager has tackled both sides of voyeurism in her work.
Now, in Soft Serve, she dishes up a series of portraits and figures as colourful, dripping, melting realities, oozing with thick sculptural paint. Scanning images of food, art history and pop culture for reference, depictions of things for sale (often using women) sell items of desire. The resulting works resemble sweet sticky desserts with their frosting texture and pastel colours; people often comment on how they want to touch or eat it. “This isn’t an unhappy series, I wanted to dwell on things that bring pleasure and eventually, while I studied them, I wondered what would it be like to become them, morph into them,” says Prager. Welcome to Soft Serve.