Friday, 14 July 2017

Lisa Yuskavage:Flesh for Fantasy.

I wonder how differently the art world, and myself, would have viewed the work of Lisa Yuskavage if she'd been born a man. In fact would the work be the same? Almost definitely not. Every little thing that happens in our life affects us, makes us see things in a different way, approach the world from a different angle. The gender you're born in to or, indeed, identify with is simply too large a thing not to affect your world view.

The proportions of most of Yuskavage's nudes or nearly nudes (very few are fully clothed that's for sure) are pretty unrealistic. They're Barbie or Sindy dolls grown up, gone bad, or, if you'd prefer, gone good. David Zwiner on Grafton Street in Mayfair has got a small show, spread over two floors, showing us what Yuskavage has been working on over the last couple of years.

The landscapes these overly eroticised women are painted in front of are equally fantastical and unrealistic. Consisting of bold colours, ludicrously expensive looking furniture, or simply gauzy clouds it's hard, initially, to make much of a connection between Yuskavage's soft porn soft focus imagery and Alice Neel's psychological portraiture but that doesn't mean people haven't tried.

It's not just that they're both Pennsylvania born artists who relocated to New York City, or even that you can buy a book about Alice Neel in the bookshop at David Zwirner, but more that they both use heightened colour and exaggerated features to add emphasis to their work. Yuskavage, as will be immediately clear, just goes a lot further than Neel.

 
Stoned (2016)

 
(Nude) Hippie (2016)

 
Hippie (Nude Bra) (2016)
 
Often these women pose solo both delighting and, to a lesser extent, subverting the male gaze. Are we men so crap that even a fairly unrealistic representation of a naked lady will do it for us? I'm afraid the answer is yes. The pictures of loving couples are, on the surface, less problematic. There's tenderness for sure - but also tension. Who's in control of the situation?
 
In 2016's Lovers a young lady appears to be performing what can only be described as a titwank for her slightly obscured partner. Framed by an almost Matisse like red the man's head may be unclear but the woman is facing away from us. You could spend ages looking at some of these paintings and trying to conjure a narrative. Or you could just giggle at all the bums and boobs. I did a bit of both.


 
Lovers (2016)

 
Housewarming (2016)

 
Suburbs (2017)

 
Deja Vu (2017)
 
One woman and about five shadowy men make up this year's Deja Vu. What's afoot here? A gangbang? Something worse? Why are the men greyed out and why do they all look the same? I don't think they actually represent real men, more ideas of men, memories of men but my interpretation was not as interesting as the one I overheard a fellow gallery visitor share with his friend. He opined that all the men looked like James Morrison. I wasn't sure if he was being over formal in describing the late Doors frontman and serial penis exposer or if he meant the very much alive pop-soul singer from Warwickshire. 

 
Super Natural (2017)

 
Ludlow Street (2017)
 
The most lovingly portrayed couples are the ones in Ludlow Street and Wine and Cheese. It's kind of cute that he's kept his green socks on and who wouldn't enjoy a nice glass of red wine when having their genitals caressed. Two of life's great pleasures at the same time.
 
There's no doubt that part of Yuskavage's schtick is to take a sideways, and playful, look at the way the nude has been portrayed across art history. A quick walk round any major gallery will confirm to you that naked women have been painted, and exhibited, many more times than naked men.. So it's hard to say exactly why Yuskavage has chosen to add to that history, even amplifying certain female, er, assets as she does. There's no denying that the colours, the compositions, and, yes, all that oil, graphite, and charcoal on linen portraying exposed (mostly female) flesh are a pleasure to look at but I can't help thinking she's aiming for something more than grubby ogling.
 
She's an amazing artist with an instantly recognisable technique, it's a joy to look at her work (even the rest of her oeuvre, sadly not presented here, which contains so much more than the nudes) but I wasn't quite able to process, or understand, what kind of contradictory psychological stunt she's playing. I guess the only thing I can do is try and get along to see more in the future. It'd be rude not to.

 
Wine and Cheese (2017)

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