Art "Oh hello you."
This lunch time, Tate Liverpool were once again kind enough to invite me to the press view for their three new shows, Maria Lassnig, Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms (the paid exhibitions) and Ella Kruglyanskaya (which will be the free exhibition on the ground floor). All three shows are well curated, the objects thoughtfully chosen and with a keen sense, as has been the case in recent years, of finding ways in which they thematically and materially overlap, in idea, composition and motif.
Unfortunately for me, I've never, not exactly not been a fan of Francis Bacon, or more specifically not feeling anything about his work. From being taken to an exhibition at school and in the years since, often in visits to Tate Liverpool, I've tried my best with it, built an understanding of his thought processes, even bought a postcard of his famous triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) (which is on display). But there's nothing here for me and now that I'm in my forties I've made my peace with that.
After the disappointment of not having the kind of revelation which occurred during the Warhol exhibition (see here), I wandered disconsolately to the ground floor space (well got the lift) and into the Ella Kruglyanskaya exhibition and smiled. And smiled some more, and smiled again. The first image through the doors is Fruit Picnic (2011), an image of two figures lolling across a multicoloured mat, one winking at us, the other fast asleep, wearing a belt with a buckle in the shape of a mouth. What could I say but:
"Oh hello you."
Ella Kruglyanskaya is a New York based painter (originally from Latvia) and this is her first dedicated museum exhibition (although she's had plenty of shows in commercial galleries). There's some explanatory text on Tate's website about how this is a retrospective of her work from the past ten years, and the first appearance of paintings made in 2016, some completed just a few weeks ago apparently. It pays homage to the history of art, in her use of egg temora and a medium and embracing "a wide range of influences from German expressionism to film and popular culture of the 1950s and 1960s."
On reflection, I understand my own taste enough to realise exactly why I had this reaction. In the same way that Spotify Discover or Netflix attempt to fathom what your tastes are and present you with other things you might like, Ella Kruglyanskaya's work strokes my art appreciation algorithm almost obscenely. It doesn't tick all of the boxes, there aren't any depictions of Shakespeare and none of them were painted in the Victorian era, obviously, but in terms of wanting to buy half the exhibition as postcards and t-shirts, this is pretty close.
There's a strong feminist undercurrent. The artist also chooses to depict women and pairs of women interacting, not for our visual pleasure in the Laura Mulvey sense, but happy in each others company or in the case of the small, graphic Primary Colors (2006) and Girls and Guns (2006), in a state of all out war, acknowledging the panoply of ways in which women have been depicted across visual culture. When voyeurism is implied, as per the images of bathers, the composition makes the viewer feel slightly uncomfortable as though we're invading a private space.
Many of the paintings are not as they first appear. The newly completed Girls With Drinks With Paper Cuts (2016) and Bather with Paper Cuts (2016), look from a distance like pencil drawing and collage glued to a canvas, but look closer and they're actually photorealistic paintings of same (the artist offering a clear influence from Matisse who occupied this same space up until a couple of weeks ago). Sideways Face (Paper Ruin) (2016) attempts a similar trick by sculpturally implying three dimensions on a two dimensional plain.
Kruglyanskaya also embraces post-modernity, the messy interplay of elements from a range of different cultural influences. Girl With Sunglasses (2008) noirishly utilises the frames of a woman's shades to reflect a beach scene. The aforementioned Paper Cuts pieces are graphically similar to the kinds of artwork typified by the the day-glo 80s and you could well imagine them being used on anything from a music compilation to advertising an alcoholic tipple. This isn't a criticism by the way, I love their complex simplicity.
Which means they're also very web-friendly images, of the kind you might imagine cropping up in social media feeds. Primary Colors (2006) and Girls and Guns (2006) show two frames of an abstract action and although we're meant to imagine what we're seeing, they're not unlike animated gifs. PBS Ideas Channel has a strong piece about how images are now being used to imply, depict or replace emotion online and there are plenty of this artists paintings which could be utilised for this purpose. Especially Gossip Girls (2010).
This is only a small exhibition but it offers a good enough sense of Kruglyanskaya's work for me to want to see more. An online image search for her name presents dozens of others, some variations of paintings in the Tate's exhibition, some even more graphic and on the nose in their symbolism. This makes sense of the bananas on the pullover in Lips and Lemons, for example. As the artist says in this interview: “Even when they’re offering themselves up to be looked at, there’s a sense of resistance. Consuming their voluptuousness feels a bit risky.” I happily take that risk.