Bedded Geist: Works by Sophie Iremonger and Stevie Hanley

BEDDED GEIST addresses spectrality and phantasm as manifested in the WORKS BY SOPHIE IREMONGER AND STEVIE HANLEY. These two artists exhibit such rich and enigmatic images that linger in the eye long after viewing and henceforth haunt the imagination. The sheer beauty of the works seduces the viewers to its brightly painted surfaces or lures them into its dizzying unfolding ground where the beholder has no choice but to succumb, to give in, to be bedded with the image. Sophie Iremonger’s paintings are skilfully executed through the dynamic use of line and colour. The rendering of flora and fauna are crafted through traditional techniques of outlines, contours, and shading. The detail from her piece “Fire Scrapers” (mixed media on canvas, 2012) showing varied views of horses rely on the use of outlines to demarcate the form of the animal, contour lines to refine the shape and give it detail, and shading in different hues to give it life. The compositional strategy of layering these different views is reminiscent of Futurism and its focus on movement and speed. However, Iremonger does not refer to the blur of speed but her attempts to capture time, like a filmstrip showing one frame at a single moment. The saturation of colour and the abundance of flora that grows uncontrollably takes over the picture plane unsettling the viewer’s sense of space, collapsing and expanding the foreground, middle ground and background through the placement of the yellow flowers, Mahonia, which grows so heartily, that its unique beauty becomes a banality, a mundane even profane, weed. As the space undulate it creates ripples in the temporal nature of the work. When is this landscape of burnt savannahs and surrendering skyscrapers can only be of a vision of a peculiar future where nature retakes the landscape and extinct animals miraculously return from their prehistoric sedimentary graves. The Mahonia, prehistoric animals, and crumbling skyscrapers haunt Iremonger. As she rework and reform these images on canvas, painting becomes an exorcism of these spectres but also an intimation of memory resulting in a lyrical lexicon that manifests this phantasmic world.

Falling into a cactus patch would not be considered a pleasant experience but Iremonger in her piece “Wreckage with Nectar” (mixed media on canvas, 2012) successfully makes it so. The gorgeous marks of graphite and ink give the cactus spines such power and danger that a thorny feeling overcomes the viewer. Yet, the animals in this painting are delightfully engaged in an oral frenzy! Bears, dear, honey bees, humming birds and bats, all with tongues cheerfully licking, tasting, penetrating their objects of desire despite the danger of an impalement. In the middle of this veduta of a futuristic land, lies the folly of human technology; a crashed jet planted with its nose lost behind the overgrowth and the its tail barely peeking through, faded and translucent, a sombre and passive presence amidst the vibrancy of colourful plants and animated menagerie. Unlike the bellowing ground in “Fire Scrapers” there is no escaping this garden of pricks and proboscises, planting the viewer right in the thick of it, disoriented by the play of scale with tiny bears and giant hummingbirds competing for attention. The washes of colours that pop up like islands act as stepping stones upon which to tread and navigate the painting surface and direct the eye to move throughout the space, yet unlike a Poussin whose calculated colour paths lead to the recession of space, Iremonger’s irregular arrangement befuddles any spatial formation, leaving the viewer yet again to fall into a cactus patch.

Stevie Hanley’s caves do not present a physical threat as Iremonger’s prickly cacti but nonetheless creates a space of foreboding. Upon the encounter with the artwork, the viewer experiences the complex spatial interplay on which Hanley is focused. The viewer is immediately reoriented to head to the corner where the two-panel work is placed perpendicular to each other and whose physicality is impossible to ignore as it occupies a good amount of space as well as present an alluring central image, a negative space receding further into the corner as if it is a portal that joins the viewer’s world with that of Hanley’s ruminations. The cave seems to appear from nowhere but its arrival is anticipated by several elements that surround it. In his piece, “From One Cave Looking Into Another,” (gouache on paper, 2011), two attendant monks flank the bottom corners of the piece. Their verticality is echoed numerous times through the gestures of rendering trees complete with vines hanging down that further exaggerate the vertical space. Small bands of horizontal branches demarcate a ground along with layered and foreshortened trees upon which the viewer is unable to set stable footing. The ground is grumbling as the cave breaks through the verticality and imposes itself in the centre of the picture plane. Hanley’s elegant use of one-point perspective further destabilizes the ground and the space quickly recedes deeply into the background where two shadowy figures stand either awaiting to enter or just exiting the cave. Hanley’s hand becomes more noticeable at the mouth of the cave where he employs quick applications of highlights and contrasting contour lines sketching out the rocky features of the cavernous antechamber.

In “Winter’s Cave” (3D-Effect spray paint, mixed media on paper, 2012) Hanley explores further the lure of this negative space and animates it with circular and spiral brushstrokes and numerous pencil lines that whirl into a vortex drawing in the viewer. The space around the cave no longer has its vertical lines that act as a gate or prison cell bars that arrests the viewer from entering the space too quickly, but now the trees slightly bend to the force of this swirling energy that simultaneously pushes out beyond the picture plane whilst sucking in the beholder. The cave seems to be Hanley’s anthropomorphised geological alter ego. His biography confesses this experience of being sucked in and pushed out as he deals with his religious upbringing. He takes a step further in this exploration as he exposes his source materials for his cave drawings in a new installation. Hanley’s archive of cave imagery along with preparatory sketches of caves will occupy the space and allow the viewers to physically enter his cave. Both Iremonger and Hanley play with this notion of how to enter the picture plane. In Bedded Geist, these playful explorations are given a serious platform in order to help unearth some of these embedded narratives. Bedded Geist follows this playful orientation and examines how Geist, or ghost, or mind, or spirit is bedded. How do we as viewers become intimate with the work of art? What aspect of our humanity is activated when engaged with such work? What is seen in this exhibition is not an obvious mind fuck but rather a polite and genteel gesturing of the middle finger.

Both artists are skewing with the audience’s expected spatial configurations but also altering the way in which resistance to conservative narratives of sexuality manifest itself on canvas or paper. It is no longer imperative to blatantly show the vagina or anus to address sex and sexuality, it is now abstracted through the filters of memory and reflection, and what comes out on the other side is an unexpectedly lush yet ambiguous vision of becoming. Like Karl Marx says, “A spectre is haunting Europe,” but in this case it is not Communism, nor Capitalism but rather Intimacy.

Rico J. Reyes, Curator Artspace 121 – Berlin Projects