AN INTIMATE DISTANCE
Traditional notions of portrait painting have typically involved some degree of interaction between painter and subject. Even if the subject was a stranger, a level of intimacy was often formed through the process of observing, being observed, and the time and labour involved in the painting process.
In An Intimate Distance, four emerging artists obscure the line between intimacy and detachment. Their canvases and boards become mirrors, reflecting themselves even through the depiction of strangers. Interactions and quiet moments are recorded and each artist’s highly personal investment through the labour of painting elevates the significance of their relationship with the subjects – whatever that relationship may be.
Many of JESSIE LEE NASH’s paintings are speedily captured portraits of strangers, whom she meets on apps and websites such as chat rooms and Tinder.
Placed indistinctly among these strangers’ portraits are paintings of herself, and one of her mother drinking a can of VB in a bridal gown. The positioning of these strangers alongside people she knows intimately, critiques and constructs avenues of closeness in the age of digital interactions.
Although the physicality is removed in these situations, as the purely digital meetings allow for no physical touch, Nash injects the interactions with intimacy by taking the time to record the strangers. They are captured with a thick, fleshy paint surface, perhaps compensating for the digital mediation facilitated by the screen.
While the unknown sitters in Nash’s works are aware they are being observed, they may not be aware they are being painted, raising relevant questions of privacy and the changing nature of artist-subject relationships.
KRISTIAN FRACCHIA paints himself in an ambiguous natural landscape, as a means of communicating his personal relationship with the ocean. His practice has centred on presenting a more nuanced representation of the Australian sportsman, normalising depictions of anxiety and spirituality through depictions of himself in water-based sporting situations. In An Intimate Distance, Fracchia’s self portraits are paired with text works, which use excerpts from his own journal to express a highly personal and fleeting emotional connection with sport and the ocean. The translucent greens and browns connect the paintings with intrinsic conceptions of the natural world, while embracing a sense of study-like incompletion. There is a reflective sensitivity, perhaps also a vulnerability, in these works that we are rarely shown in relation to masculine sportsmanship.
HOLLY ANDERSON uses invented and indistinct figures to stand in for her own feelings of vulnerability and failure. These relatable traits are personified through the depiction of humorously skewed proportions and awkward poses. The figures are swamped in their own hoods and sleeves. The gentle folds of the fabric and the pastel colours ease us gently into a scene of deep vulnerability, and allow us to empathise with feelings of disappointment and unease. There is a mundanity to the works, visible in the bored expressions and titles like On Hold for 20 Minutes, which makes the figures unintimidating and highly relatable. Though they are not recognisable as specific people, they are undeniably familiar. Perhaps they are living, skewed and awkward, within most of us.
Like Anderson, BENNETT GORDON constructs characters who ultimately reflect aspects of himself, and his portraits become a way for him to negotiate the world. The playful and seemingly banal scenes – such as a woman bathing – are evocative of deep emotional states and interactions. The narratives Gordon creates through the works invite the viewer to insert themselves into the scenes and the emotions attached to them. Although the subject matter may seem banal, the works’ intuitive depictions of interpersonal interactions become dramatised and significant; they are allegories drawn from Gordon’s own imaginings made highly accessible through the bright colour schemes, naive figures, and curious relationship between the characters.
Whether their works depict themself, strangers, or imagined characters, each artist in An Intimate Distance uses figurative painting as an avenue to explore intimacy in a world of digital interaction and photographic depiction.
Words by Miranda Hine