Dead Leg, Elizabeth Glaessner’s first solo exhibition with the gallery, brings together fifteen paintings, made over the course of the past two years, with a selection of recent works on paper.
Since receiving her MFA in 2012, Glaessner has undertaken an evolving
pictorial search which she seems to have honed in recent years into
a focused path which suits her development. In Dead Leg, her color
palette has narrowed to blues, greens and browns; her subjects have
been refocused around post-apocalyptic situations essentially featuring women in distress; her style, too, has sharpened and asserted itself:
the ambitions of her painting are now precise and explicit.
“Allowing things to not necessarily make sense – that helps me in letting compositional decisions inform a narrative. Not tying myself to reality…that was a critical moment,” she told Interview magazine in July 2014.
This is clearly still the case today where the moments that unite the composition of the painting with its narrative seem to have been appeased by an asserted distancing from any temptation of reality. A leg disappears in the rift of the two joined canvases that make up Rabid Hole, 2022, and if the progression of the painting suggests it, a pair of legs will end in the heads of birds in Dead Can Dance, 2020, imprinting a surrealist dimension to a painting ultimately closer to symbolism, where pessimism, esotericism and melancholy seem engaged in a three-step waltz. A symbolism in which the very idea of the femme fatale would have given way to the tragic female destinies imposed by a patriarchal system still intact, as seen in the particular postures of its characters.
Glaessner’s paintings seem to begin “right after” Masaccio’s Adam and Eve are driven out of paradise in the Brancacci Chapel of the Church of Carminé in Florence. An “after” nourished by all that separates this extraordinary little fresco from our connected present day. The violence of this narrative departure, where two spurned characters bear their irremediable shame on their very bodies, is also at play in Glaessner’s work. However, Glaessner does not refer to any particular event, rather articulates the conditions of open-ended narratives. It is not clear, for example, whether the small figure in Escapism, 2022 emerges from, or is forced into, the lower abdomen where a hand receives, or forces them.
The realities to which the scenes depicted refer are just as vaporous as their pictorial treatment, and probably just as complex as the treatment of the pictorial material, sometimes soaking the canvas with fluid pigments (leaving the grain visible) and sometimes using impasto techniques to build up the surface. The scenes are bathed in an enveloping atmosphere, where the narrative is often less important than the emotions it conveys. One has the feeling of being in front of Loïe Füller performing her serpentine dance in the thick waters of a rising lake. It is not a question of reconstructing the succession of events, as you would in a police investigation, that led these characters to their obvious desolation, but of taking note of it and, most likely, sharing this feeling because it is also ours. Clearly, these catastrophic characters open the gates to our remorse, our sense of injustice, of guilt, to our cowardice perhaps as much as to our survival instinct.
Curiously, it was Degas who inspired this exhibition. Glaessner recalls a recent visit to Paris and her discovery at the Musée d’Orsay, of 1865’s Scene of War in the Middle Ages (or The Misfortunes of the Town of Orléans). “When I saw the painting, I was struck by how much it resonated today. At a time when women’s rights are being stripped away and our bodies are once again in peril, I’m reminded of the cyclical nature of humanity and how we cannot seem to escape this battle centered on power and control,” she confides. And in a literal way, the female figure on the right of Degas’s painting lying on the ground, stripped naked, trampled by a horse, is indeed found in Glaessner’s own War in the Middle Ages, 2022. But it is not so much the character that reappears, but the posture, in fact several centuries of painting offer Glaessner an alphabet of postures from which she draws. The fact that her characters sometimes seem to be direct descendants of those in medieval illuminations gives them an unexpected weight.
To this Degas painting seen at the Musée d’Orsay, and to all the studies of bathers from which Glaessner makes no secret of having been inspired, the artist adds Angelica Saved by Ruggiero by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, a painting she saw at the Louvre during the same trip whose female figure is naked with her hands tied up. The Degas also draws parallels with Goya’s Disasters of War series whose morbid titles (Bury and be silent, Nothing can be done about it, No one is there to help them or Don’t do that either) and imagery represent the consequences of war, and the sexual abuse suffered by Spanish women.
It is not that unusual that so-and-so a figure, from such-and-such a painting has fed Glaessner’s imagination and plastic vocabulary. That the history of painting feeds the present day of painting is the least of it. What remains of these characters, less tele-transported than approximately resuscitated, is their inscription by the artist in settings/ landscapes devoid of human construction, a kind of primary nature neither benevolent nor hostile. The theater of an inevitable purgatory.
Born in 1984 in USA
Lives and works in Brooklyn, USA
Drawing from art history, mythology, memory and pop-culture, Elizabeth Glaessner's dream-like paintings conjure a surreal universe uninhibited by conventional boundaries. In this imagined realm, fluid figures populate amorphous landscapes where both person and surrounding are in a seemingly constant state of metamorphoses. Glaessner begins each piece intuitively, layering oil over poured pigments, allowing the paint to interrupt the narrative making room for the subconscious. Inspired by symbolist painters such as Edvard Munch, Glaessner uncovers a psychological world with her distinct use of color and technique. Through form and process her paintings act as gateways into untapped emotions, triggering our primordial unconscious, freed from the burden of societal boundaries and moral codes.