Sasha Gordon: The Flesh Disappears, But Continues To Ache @ Stephen Friedman, London
Stephen Friedman Gallery in London is pleased to present American artist Sasha Gordon’s first solo exhibition in Europe. Gordon paints surreal, anthropomorphic versions of herself in hyper-realistic detail. The artist uses these doppelgängers to explore the complexity of her identity as a young, queer, Asian-American woman. Her practice recalls the erotic, highly charged paintings of Paul Cadmus and his documentation of gay life in early 20th-century New York. Gordon’s work also resonates with Caroline Coon’s crisp-edged paintings and Amanda Ba’s unsettling figuration.
In this new body of work, Gordon depicts herself in an unusual array of material forms, transposing her physical characteristics into animal, botanical and even geological features. Through these avatars she portrays the othering of unconventional human bodies and examines her own experiences of alienation, whilst challenging the logic of certain limiting social norms.
One painting portrays the artist as living topiary, her body covered from head-to-toe in painstakingly rendered green leaves. Recalling classical depictions of Aphrodite, the goddess of sexual love, the figure stands in a contrapposto pose and preserves her modesty with two well placed hands. This conventional image of female beauty is threatened by another version of the artist who brandishes a large pair of gardening shears (alarmingly close to the figure's genitalia – a tongue-in-cheek allusion to lesbian sex). Gordon celebrates the interloper’s body by stripping her of clothing, using naturalistic skin tones to accentuate her curves in a further challenge to conventions of femininity.
In another work, Gordon transforms herself into a cat, exploring the artist’s burgeoning awareness of being queer. Gordon explains: “Cats are domestic animals; they are controlled by their owner yet simultaneously have a mind of their own. The painting portrays my difficulties with my sexuality, experiencing compulsive heterosexuality and not understanding why.” Here, the artist uses anthropomorphism to analyse, and learn from, complicated elements of her psyche.
Gordon also tackles misogyny and the demonisation of women's emotions. While anger among men is typically perceived as a manifestation of strength or power, in women it is often labelled a sign of instability. Instead, the artist claims her right to express rage, reimagining herself as an erupting volcano; gritting her teeth, she paints herself overflowing with lava-like emotion.
Projecting herself into bizarre, dream-like scenarios, and disrupting entrenched notions of gender and sexuality, Gordon turns traditional figuration firmly on its head.