Scopophilia Press Release

Sarah Muirhead SCOPOPHILIA

4th October – 4th November 2017 Leyden Gallery

In her current series of work titled SCOPOPHILIA, Sarah Muirhead explores the subject of both a beholding gaze and the corporeal process of painting.


Following her previous sell out 2015 show Bonded at Leyden Gallery, these new paintings are exhibited for the first time in Muirhead’s eagerly anticipated second solo exhibition. For over a year the artist Sarah Muirhead has been working on a collection of images that explore visually the fetishisation of people we adore or lust after. Through a psychoanalyic lens, Muirhead’s paintings focus on depictions of professional extroverts, often performers, who offer an expanded creative sight/site by which to illustrate the feelings and desires of an introvert – namely the artist. “Each subject appears realistic, touchable and tangible but their incarnation is unreal, unreachable.”  Sarah Muirhead

This idealised subject at once appears frozen, as if a beautiful mirage, and yet is also physical and bodily; presented as an objectified, even dehumanised icon, and as such revisits and reconfigures an ancient visual path littered with tormented and beatified religious icons and the love they engendered.   The new series of paintings in Scopolphilia represent the artist’s attempt to paint and draw her own voyeuristic tendencies, without reducing them as records and celebrations of beautiful friends who represent different subcultures, creative movements and alternative expressions of self. This latest work is part of a long-standing practice and a wider meditation on the representation of gender and sexuality. It takes stock and examines the concept of a perfect glass wall between us and the people we observe detail. As Muirhead says: “I want there to be a glimmer of the real person being objectified, idealised or fetishised. The representational side of the work should still be a kind of documentation of people under my spotlight.”  Sarah Muirhead

SCOPOPHILIA, the morbid urge to gaze, pleasure from looking, is a meditation about gender, sexuality and self. The subject is aware they are being looked at and Muirhead is interested in the silent dynamic between the two sides.    Since her first encounter with the word in one of her favourite films Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960), Muirhead has been fascinated by different people’s own subjective interpretation of the world, whether they moralise, recoil or sympathise with the notion of the morbid urge to gaze.   Muirhead’s work treads the line between the figurative and the abstract, combining both classical compositions and surreal, futuristic elements to create other-worldly scenes. Muirhead’s work explores the juxtaposition between the sexually charged nature of figurative art and the fixed artistic canon which dictates what is and is not deemed acceptable subject matter. Muirhead's work highlights and energises parts of the body which are not traditionally sexualised and plays with the notion of the dominant and submissive roles taken on by the subject and their viewer. The gaze of the subject invites the viewer's own gaze to linger, creating an ambiguity in this power dynamic. In her work she attempts to challenge the accepted perceptions of male and female bodies inherited from mass media and classical art alike. Muirhead's work has adorned the walls of Oxford University as part of a series of portraits commissioned to challenge the stereotypical representations of Oxonians.


About Sarah Muirhead

Born in Glasgow, Sarah Muirhead graduated from Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) in 2009. Muirhead was nominated as one of '10 New Sensations' by a panel including Kirsty Wark. Following the success of her sell out 2015 show, Muirhead is about to embark upon her second solo show at Leyden Gallery this autumn.


The subversion of religious iconography is a recurrent theme in Muirhead's work. Playing with ubiquitous and immediately recognisable scenes, Muirhead admits that she "can't resist a little irreverence". She sees depictions of Christian icons as a vehicle by which to portray a particular kind of male beauty. In her recently completed work 'Stigmata', Muirhead captures the beauty of androgyny. By incorporating gem stones instead of blood, Muirhead uses stigmata as a decorative element rather than an expression of suffering, drawing on the glorification of suffering in classical resurrection images to such an extent so as to do away with physical suffering entirety. The background, referencing Giovanni Bellini's 'Resurrection of Christ', looks almost like a theatre backdrop, hinting that the scene is entirely and knowingly performative. 

You are also invited to our event: Voyeuristic Tendencies A panel discussion on the intersection of artistic practice, psychoanalysis and visual theory on the topic of SCOPOPHILIA Friday 13th October from 6 - 8 pm  With Ruby Jones, queer performance activist, Anna McNay, arts journalist and Adriana Cerne, director of Leyden Gallery, in conversation with Sarah Muirhead