In Eros the Bittersweet, Anne Carson writes: “Like painting, the written word fixes living things in time and space, giving them the appearance of animation although they are abstracted from life and incapable of change. Logos in its spoken form is a living, changing, unique process of thought. It happens once and is irrecoverable. The logos written down by a writer who knows his craft will approximate this living organism in the necessary ordering and interrelation of parts.”
Painting figures, specifically portraits, is a conscious straddling of the illusionistic and fabricated quality of the painted image with a living and breathing subject matter. Katie Lyle paints on a flat surface a subject that is alive and known to both her and to her viewers. Her paintings project an image of something that thinks, speaks, thinks and grows older, but at the same time it is entirely static and fixed in space.
Lyle is interested in the portrait as a means of looking at the different methods, mannerisms and distortions used by artists when recording the figure throughout history. The stylistic differences from between paintings included in the exhibition point to the malleability of representational forms, borrowing the flatness of Byzantine figure painting, the cropping of a snapshot or the staged lighting of early Hollywood headshots. While true likeness is a fiction, the genre of portraiture can reveal the specific tastes and preoccupations of these historical periods. How a face is composed and lit, how it is framed, the tilt of the head and the gaze of the eyes, or the arch of an eyebrow tells us about both the artist and the sitter, the fashion and preferences of a particular period in time.
The painted portrait allows the artist to play with the truth and fiction inherent in image making because of its precarious relationship with reality. We don’t trust the documentary nature of a painted portrait the way we trust a photograph, but the painted image accentuates the fabricated nature of all images by simultaneously showing us the artist’s hand as well as an image of something or someone we recognize at the same time. A single painting can move between photographic illusion and halting flatness. As a body of work Lyle’s figures offer recognition and familiarity, as they hover between fiction, caricature and likeness and highlighting the relationship between them.
Carson, Anne. Eros the Bittersweet. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1986.
Katie Lyle lives and works in Toronto. She was a finalist in the RBC Canadian Painting Competition in 2012, where her work was awarded the Honorable Mention purchase prize. In 2013 she participated in the exhibition "Drama of Perception" curated by Sandra Meigs at Deluge Contemporary. Lyle currently works at Mercer Union as the curatorial assistant and received her MFA from the University of Victoria in 2009.