Untitled (Thread) Review, Who’sJack Magazine

The thirteenth artist from EXHIBITIONISM at The Courtauld Institute of Art is Olivia McEwan…

The intimate and passionate depiction of the female nude in Olivia McEwan’s work marks a significant moment in the artist’s practice; her recent exploration of themes of sex and destruction is increasingly abstract. McEwan works on untreated canvas on which she paints with commercial pigments, as well as red wine and blood; the latter two change their appearance with time.

McEwan’s piece is constructed upon a vertical line that divides the picture plane in half. This marks a folding line around which both abstract and non-abstract shapes are arranged symmetrically. The method, as well as the effect it produces, recalls the famous Rorshach tests. However, the symmetry in McEwan’s painting is only fragmentary; subtle differences on either side of it remind one more of organic forms than technically produced images. Moreover, the painting – due to the materials used – is likely to change, thus the associations it evokes may alter over time. The possible dynamism of the interpretation is, more importantly, related to the complexity of the piece.

The recognisable features of the figure are hands, legs and head; the inscription of the remaining parts of the body remains within the realm of the imagination. The rupture in the centre of the painting is highly disturbing. What was initially reminiscent of Rorshach’s inkblots produces the distressing association of blood when seen in connection to the void in the centre. It seems as if the figure is torn apart; the dramatic vulnerability and feeling of exposure are intertwined with passion.

The image of a fractured female body establishes a perverse dialogue with the viewer. The painting – in offering an anguished vision of sexuality and femininity – creates a psychological barrier and feeling of repulsion we tend to experience when faced with the unsettling. On the other hand, McEwan’s painting conditions the act of looking as penetration, and as such establishes an intimate engagement with the spectator. The feeling of exposure – both of the viewer and of the artist – seems to be crucial here. Through revealing her vision of female sex, McEwan’s work immediately launches a wordless dialogue with the spectator; the penetrating gaze the work stimulates in the viewer does not allow for disengagement. Thus, the painting confronts us with exposure and intimacy while at the same time forcing us to respond.

This emotional ambivalence is characteristic of McEwan’s work; it is impossible to establish whether we are witnessing ecstasy, suffering, or, perhaps, both at the same time. The artist herself states that the work explores ‘sex as degenerative, destructive action’. The painting offers a subjective and intimate vision of feminine sexuality; it is seductive and frightening at the same time. Sexual passion, the offering of one’s body, appears as both an ecstatic and destructive act. It seems that only through ultimate exposure it is possible to achieve completeness.

Untitled (Thread), 2009

Oil and mixed media on canvas

Taken from: http://www.whosjack.org/
Text by Malgorzata Misniakiewicz 2009