Ella Kruglyanskaya

A New York artist, born in 1978, her works are in the small gallery space on the ground floor at Tate Liverpool.

While some canvases were of still life, the majority were of women in acts of such as sunbathing, gossiping  and even shooting one another. Did feel a little depressed at the concept, was this another artist who would depict women as stereotypes that ultimately pander to the male gaze? Luckily, no. While Kruglyanskaya’s work has a cartoon element to it which is immediately distinctive, her characters depict archetypes as opposed to real portraits and, as the wall label said, she presents “a riposte to the contentious history of representing women in art history and visual culture.

Three works stood out and they are linked by their depictions of women in bathing suits and raises the eternal dilemma that faces women about whether we accept objectification or do we wish to be simply seen and not judged for our looks, clothes and bodies.

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 In Untitled:Blue Bather, the positioning of the viewpoint directs our focus to her thighs; she is lying in that awkward pose we adopt while sunbathing and her face is partially obscured because we are looking down on her so it is her body that we focus on. The costume accentuates the shapeliness of her hips and breasts. Ella has spoken of the way her clothing creates their own geometric shapes and that is certainly true here. The shapes on the blanket and the waves all undulate, emphasising that she is all woman. Her lack of self-consciousness puts her in the position of being unaware she is watched – does that make us the voyeur and how comfortable are we with this position?

In the second painting, however, we are caught in the act of voyeurism.

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Here, the Bather fixes us with her gaze, challenging the fact we are looking at her without her permission – but is she angry because she is not yet the tanned goddess she seeks to be? Her pasty skin contrasts with her fully made up face and also with the skin of the woman cropped close to her but, the glare she gives us contradicts that idea immediately, you almost want to back off, with apologies for intruding.

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Our third girl is Large Bather with Paper cutouts from 2016- Matisse influenced, obviously, but her the pose brings us back to the dichotomy of woman as image – she is posed in a typical pin-up fashion, arms raised above her head to push forward her breasts, face half hidden by her hair, rosebud mouth – does she wants to be desired, or is she being placed into that position?

However, the painting has an unfinished air about it which shouted out a “take it or leave it” quality to it, challenging the viewer into accepting that we are not perfect in every way and are always a work in progress.

While traditional art works that depicts bathers are usually an excuse for the study of the nude – Renoir, anyone?- Kruglyanskaya dresses her bathers for a purpose :”when you look at the nude, you’re just consuming her. It’s not like she can fight back, because it’s very  difficult  to fight if you’re naked” These girls certainly know how to fight back!

 

 

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