Latvian-born painter Ella Kruglyanskaya brings her stylized depictions of female figures to New York this month, presenting a show of new paintings at Gavin Brown’s spacious Harlem gallery space. The show, dwelling on her restlessly inventive and stylistically diverse body of work, has installed the artist’s range of portraits and scenes depicting women’s bodies and social contexts through a range of varied lenses.
Kruglyanskaya’s work draws heavily on a willful negotiation between the real and the history of abstraction, drawing on touchstones like Philip Guston (particularly in the artist’s sense of structural composition, cartoonish embellishments and a sense of the precise moment to dispense with the rules of figuration). Her pieces explore a sense of effusive, indulgent exploration of the female form, embellishing the body’s curves and poses while drawing on cultural iconographies to create clever and often comical juxtapositions. In Art Wench, the artist has painted a traditional German beerhall waitress, but with her glasses overflowing with paintbrushes rather than rich lager.
In another, her sitter lays seductively as if on a couch, while floating several feet above it on the canvas.
In each, the tropes and constructs of Western painting are turned into material across which Kruglyanskaya has free reign, spinning her images in and out of networks of meaning that constantly keep the viewer on their toes, and fully aware of their actions as a “viewer.” Several works in particular include paintbrushes either included in the frame of the image, or painted atop it, as if to reference both the construction and the distance between the image itself and the viewer. In another, Kruglyanskaya presents a painter in front of the canvas, posed in a slip covered in paint, and staring irritatedly out at the viewer. It’s a rather impressive twist, pulling the viewer into a sense of intimacy with the character depicted, yet one that is always tempted by the clear intrusion the viewer is making. Rather than consuming the image, or rather, taking the image as their own domain, Kruglyanskaya’s artist demands a reason for the viewer’s presence, and, perhaps, even brusquely asks that they take a step backwards, or perhaps even leave the room.
Taken as a whole, the show presents an ever-changing series of scenes and sources that the artist visits and revisits in various forms and frameworks. Underscoring her ability to mold and shape the viewer’s relationship to the canvas in a particularly striking and emotionally resonant manner, Keruglyanskaya’s control over the canvas space gets a powerful emphasis here.
The show closes February 24th.
— D. Creahan
Ella Kruglyanskaya at Gavin Brown [Artist’s Page]