The Grass divides as with a Comb: Ewa Juszkiewicz @ Almine Rech, London
In her first solo exhibition with Almine Rech London, Polish artist Ewa Juszkiewicz goes deep in the weeds with The Grass divides as with a Comb. On view through July 31, 2020, the presentation comprises 6 works on canvas that expand on the artist's deconstruction of traditional, historical portraits.
While the Warsaw-based Juskiewicz is skilled in drawing, collage, and animation, expert oil painting is the artist’s calling card, earning worldwide recognition that earned her a place in Thames & Hudson's 100 Painters of Tomorrow publication in 2014. With a master's degree in painting from the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk, followed by a Ph.D. earned at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, Juszkiewicz's work is strongly rooted in traditional Western art, especially Dutch/Flemish female portraiture. Through a proud feiminist reinvention of this renowned format, she "critically refers to the position and role of women in society and culture in the past, and to their insufficient presence in the official version of history."
In 2009, she developed a practice of concealing her subjects' identity behind distorted, grotesque facades or masks, which has evolved into an audacious body of work that openly confronts the schematic representation of women in art history. Loosely basing her paintings on existing images, Juszkiewicz literally defaces them, completely removing, arguably, the most recognizable element of such work - rendering the subject’s physiognomy. By concealing it behind floral arrangements, draped fabric, and cascading tresses, she obliterates superficiality, the objectification of prevailing standards of attractiveness. In experimenting with aesthetic norms, she asks us to question the notion of beauty and beast.
And while in the past, depictions of a face might have morphed into large polypores or bodies of insects, the current body of work on view in London evokes an elegant kind of grace, as the veiled disguises harmonize in successfully replication of the original images to which Juszkiewicz refers. The reuse of the works by 18th-century female painters, such as Adélaïde Labille-Guiard or Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, are modern tributes to the rare female artists who advocated for women seeking the same opportunities as their male counterparts. By applying masterful painterly skills in replicating elements of the old masters, she captures the luster of silk and velvet, dewy plant leaves and glowing skin. Such a mix of of skill and soul creates the meticulous renditions of the depicted subject, and the sound, meaningful concepts driven by resolute attitude, that place her work in the realm between the firmness of the history and the uncertainty of the future. —Sasha Bogojev
Ewa Juszkiewicz, ’The Grass divides as with a Comb’, June 18 - July 31, 2020, Almine Rech London. All images courtesy the Artist and Almine Rech. Photography by Melissa Castro Duarte