Maggie Rose at LeQuire Gallery through January 27
WORDS Audrey Molloy
LeQuire Gallery presents Maggie Rose: Stone, Flesh, Paint, an austere exhibition of figurative oil paintings which envision the marble-white and phallocentric paragons of classical antiquity in color. The Toronto-based artist is best known for her masterful and near-photo-realistic paintings of classical still life, objects related to body-identity, and the translucence of pale skin. Stone, Flesh, Paint is a continued investigation by Rose into embedded signifiers of bodily form through the canon of ancient Grecian and Roman sculptural artifacts.
In these new works, Rose relinquishes symbolic figuration of the human body, opting instead for a historicist method of representation. Her subject matter in Stone, Flesh, Paint directly references statues, friezes, and sculptural artifacts bound to the Hellenistic period (323 B.C.E. to 31 B.C.), marking an emergent concern in the artist’s practice with the reproducibility of venerated cultural signs and symbols. Notably, the ancient Greek and Roman sculptures made during this time serve as the basis for a canonical depiction of the human form; a deterministic measure, or rule, for depicting a harmonious and sublimely proportional nude human physique in sculpture.
“Rose’s reinterpretation of these classical sculptural forms onto a two- dimensional plane negotiates the scale, materiality, spatiality, and context that these subjects denote.”
Ascribed significance in art history as the progenitor of classical realism and contrapposto—a term used in the visual arts to describe the dynamic composition of a human figure standing with most of its weight on one foot—Rose’s negotiation of the canon denotes a more complex inquiry into bodily occupied objects and ideals.
In works such as Revisiting Venus (2017), Rose reproduces Alexandros of Antioch’s iconoclastic Greek statue of Aphrodite, or Venus de Milo (120 B.C.), transposing the disarmed marble sculptural form in pale, translucent tones, the classical drapery over the hips rendered a redolent crimson. The torso of the Venus figures centrally in the canvas amid a darkly abstracted background, the neck and lower legs—undisclosed limbs—cropped by the edge of the frame. Reign (2017) follows similarly; the dismembered and partial figure of the classic Venus wades in an impressionistic expanse of resplendent mark-making, its surface a provocative pink flesh.
The painterly adaption of these vernacular aesthetic objects in color demarcates a necessary revision of the historically whitewashed characteristics attributed to these icons. Art historian Max Hollein in the introduction to The Polychromy of Antique and Mediaeval Sculpture (2008), states, “The educated middle- class’s ideal of a pure, marble-white Antiquity has prevailed unchallenged into the twenty-first century.” He continues, citing the discovery of polychromy—the painting of ancient sculptures, pottery, and architecture in multiple colors—as an integral feature of Greek and Roman art, but which has been marginalized because it directly opposes public conception of classical art as highly formalized, monochromatic, and white.
With Femina (2017) and Gynaika (2017), Rose asserts a highly charged palette of revisionist polychromy in her referential depiction of Greek and Roman terracotta statues. The works both figure a single elongated female form on narrow wall panels, their bodies deeply ensconced in a vibrant slew of wraps and drapery. In these compositions, Rose takes care to exemplify the arrangement of forms in contrapposto. This adaptation of polychromy as a stylistic trope is represented in Cavalry (2017) as well; based on a section of marble frieze on the Parthenon, the work—somewhat of a flattened tableau—features three women astride decorated horses, their soft-edged faces receding with anonymity above varying rich costuming.
Rose’s reinterpretation of these classical sculptural forms onto a two-dimensional plane negotiates the scale, materiality, spatiality, and context that these subjects denote—their authenticity of representation manifest in Rose’s painterly expression of them. As in Pilgrimage (2017), Rose composites the figures from several Grecian relief sculptures to construct a singular scene, an amalgamation of symbolic iconographic tropes denied their original context. It is the translation of these precisely canonized sculptures as expressive and pastiche figurations where the artist is most successful.
The selection of these particular ancient Hellenistic subjects by the artist in the form of paint on canvas is referential to several points of inquiry: the use of historically canonized signs and symbols in contemporary painting, the polychromous stylization of iconoclastically white figures, a renegotiation of significant sculptural spatiality, and our collective reverence for bodily forms reproduced by a deterministic canon.
The work in Stone, Flesh, Paint is best negotiated in consideration of Rose’s original experience of these ancient Greek and Roman icons that occupy her paintings. More than likely, the artist responded to these objects antecedent to visiting a public institution of art or a museum collection held in a country not of origin to the artifacts. The inference of the museum as a producer of cultural goods and as a site of implied meaning presupposes the significance of these works. Rose has effectively relegated an experience of these figures, plates, reliefs, outside of the museum archive through her multifarious and masterful reinterpretation of them.
Maggie Rose: Stone, Flesh, Paint is on view at LeQuire Gallery through January 27. Nashville Arts Magazine is leading a conversation with the artist on January 24 from 6 until 8 p.m.For more information, visit www.lequiregallery.com.