Scopophilia | Sarah Muirhead 4th October - 4th November 2017
Following her previous sell-out show Bonded in 2015 at Leyden Gallery, Sarah Muirhead's new paintings are exhibited for the first time in the artist's eagerly anticipated second solo exhibition. For over a year, Muirhead has been working on a collection of images that explore the notion of fetishisation, taking as her painterly subject, people who are adored or lusted after. In her current series of work titled Scopophilia, she explores the subject of both the beholder's gaze and the corporeal process of painting. One can conceive of this project as a painterly response to Laura Mulvey’s seminal theoretical intervention in film history, with her ‘Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema’ text. Both are written and painted as a feminist recuperation of the gaze.
Muirhead’s paintings also pay attention to skin as the point of the gaze’s touch, whilst often projecting filmic layers upon the surface of skin. This transposition of light and depth, reality and illusion take us to the realm of the scopophilic and its luring.
The subjects of these paintings are depictions of professional extroverts, often performers; those such as Kasia, whose Shibaru (ancient Japanese rope binding) practice offers an expanded creative field in which to illustrate the feelings and desires of an introvert – in this case the artist. This performative and visual double-bind can be considered through a psychoanalytic lens as Muirhead says:
Each subject appears realistic, touchable and tangible but their incarnation is unreal, unreachable. -Sarah Muirhead
Muirhead's idealised subjects at once appear frozen, as if a beautiful mirage, and yet are also physical and bodily; they appear as objectified, even dehumanised icons. As such, the work revisits and reconfigures an ancient art historical terrain, littered with tormented and beatified religious icons and the adoration they engendered. In her painting Stigmata, which is a study of androgyny and its beauty, Muirhead cites Bellini's Resurrection of Christ, suggesting that the painted theatrical backdrop, points to the scene as entirely and knowingly performative. Her own admission of irreverence is queering the gaze, whilst also attempting to paint and draw her own voyeuristic tendencies, as she records and celebrates her immediate social groups, in doing so she offers all of us an expanded view of individuals who represent different subcultures, creative movements and alternative expressions of self. These latest paintings from Muirhead are part of a long-standing practice and a wider meditation on the representation of gender, sexuality and self. Scopophilia (meaning the morbid urge to gaze, or pleasure from looking) examines the concept of 'a perfect glass wall' between us and the people we observe. The subject is fully aware they are being looked at, and Muirhead is interested in the silent dynamic between the two sides. As she 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
Catalogue / A5 size / 40 pages