Skylight Projects is pleased to present A Brief History, an exhibition of new oil paintings and multimedia drawing and collage by Jemima Kirke (b. 1985, London, UK).
Kirke was raised in New York City and received her BFA in Painting from RISD in 2008. Inverting the tradition of oil portraiture, Kirke explores the multi-faceted layers of character within each of the models and friends who sit for. As viewers we are made distinctly aware of the painter’s hand and controlling gaze—we are left to confront uncomfortable truths about ourselves as voyeurs as well as about the masks and performances we engage in daily.
The artist successfully demonstrates her understanding of the performative elements of identity in this series of oil portrait paintings of distinct characters, imbued with both tragedy and irreverance, and a selection of drawing and multimedia collages that act as markers of a haunted past—the detritus and the decay—that lies subtly within each of the paintings.
Drawing on influences as varied as Edouard Manet and Lucian Freud, Kirke stays firmly grounded in a painterly tradition aiming to dissect her own gaze and her models own representations of themselves while underlining the staged relationship that is created with her subject within the studio. Kirke works quickly, and without preliminary sketches, allowing the painting to unfold in real time—her canvas yields an image of this live experience between artist and subject.
These people become both familiar and unclear—women are both beautiful and highly disturbing, strangers and close acquaintances are treated with equal care and intimacy as the artist manipulates and distorts them. By turns both heartbreakingly intimate and ultimately entirely distant, Kirke flees from obvious representations of her subject matter to focus on an underlying darkness and the interplay of pathology that exists between artist and the person studied. Her practice highlights the uncanny moment of fusion between the sitter’s projected identity and the internal character that the artist imposes upon her subject. The strange tension between what we reveal and what we hide flits across the faces of women turning them into ghoulish figures one minute, and provocative sirens the next; young children are in the same instant, frighteningly old, terrifyingly grotesque and tantalizingly naïve.
A Brief History presents us with the short version of a long story that spans various contexts and generations. We are left wondering not so much about who these people are, but rather how and why Kirke has brought them together as a beautiful and twisted family overrun with ghosts and memories. This collection of paintings and collages grasps for insight into a moment of time shared between artist and subject—a ripe moment, a rich palimpsest of imagery and stories that speaks to the depth and length of our personal histories and the stranger than fiction characters we each embody.
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