Soothsay with Louise Giovanelli @ GRIMM Gallery, NYC
GRIMM is pleased to present Soothsay, a solo exhibition of new paintings by Louise Giovanelli. This will be the Manchester-based artist’s fourth solo exhibition at GRIMM and her third at the New York gallery.
Expanding upon motifs that recur throughout her oeuvre, in particular curtains, stages, performers and vessels, Giovanelli considers the mouth as a site of transformative possibility in her new work. She continues to explore an interest in thresholds: zones or places of change where action occurs, focusing keenly on moments of contemporary spiritual reverie. The mouth as threshold is underscored by the exhibition title Soothsay, referring to a prognosticator or prophet who predicts and speaks the truth.
The exhibition marks the US debut of a new series of paintings titled Entheogen, which features an appropriated 1970s film still image of a young woman taking the Eucharist. Giovanelli repeats the image across the series of works, though distinguishes each with subtle and deft variations of cropping and color that prompt closer viewing and deeper contemplation.
The narrative implications of the image become increasingly elusive, as the religious underpinnings of the subject’s euphoric state begin to shift towards more provocative interpretation. The title Entheogen, which refers to psychoactive substances often used in ritual and spiritual contexts and is rooted in the Greek word Entheos meaning full of God, reinforces this narrative ambiguity where tropes of religious iconography, hallucinogenic drugs, and sexual revelation coalesce.
A new series in the exhibition of correlative enigma to Entheogen adapts a still image from a 1980s pornographic film. The woman’s expression in this series is akin to that of the Eucharist-receiving subject in Entheogen and in pairing these works together, Giovanelli aims to further blur the divide between erotic and spiritual rapture. An undertone of dark humor is exposed when considering this visual conflation and its position on a spectrum that spans from religious innocence to carnal corruption to the illicit.
A deep-rooted interest in the canon of Western Art and Renaissance painting remains, not only in Giovanelli’s technique which often employs a thin glaze of underpainting to her work that emanates glowing luminance, but through highlighting classical motifs such as the elongated female neck and challenging traditional single-point perspective as seen in the works of Fra Angelico and Piero della Francesca. Various new works on view have a thick waxy surface comprised of oil paint mixed with beeswax with the image painted in a thin layer on top, a method that holds weight and time within the painting’s surface, while other works employ a fine, pointillist technique that achieves a hazy surface effect that further heightens the depiction of transcendental experience.
A large-scale painting of a curtain bookends the exhibition, offering an element of monumentality amongst extreme intimacy. Its gleaming gold surface is suggestive of curtains one may encounter in a shady nightclub. This serves as an anchoring device and backdrop to the Entheogen series on view, augmenting the meaning of the green-hued works and their induced states of ecstasy with its foreboding shimmer.