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intimate topographies

Showing at Penthouse Gallery 1

until September 2019

Intimate Topographies is an exhibition of new works by Nuna's curator, and resident artist, Alia, at the Nuna Penthouse. In this series the artist takes a cartographical approach to her nude studies. The figures are in close-up—an outline of a hip or a shoulder, a shadow cast by breast or abdomen. The landscape-esque overlay is abstacted—roughened earthen textures to create a beach, or crayon scratchings evoking wind swept grasses.

Contrasts are as important in these paintings as the titled theme which points to 'body as landscape' (rather than 'body in landscape'). On large canvases, broad brush strokes—which have a hasty restless energy—are reworked by subtle shadings of airbrush, careful splatterings and deft crayon scribblings. Colours contrast too, vibrant matched with vibrant, or pastelline against itself. Some hues push into fluorescence and contrast all the more jarringly, especially in the multimedia works. But the most striking contrast is in the subject matter, an unvarnished eroticism tempered with scratched earth or encrusted brine. These works are a meditation on opposites, an integration of yin and yang with blurred edges.

"When I stand behind my easel, I approach something like Plato's World of Forms. The body I'm studying becomes neutered, the sensual and other layered features fall away, but it gains a sort of objective purity. It becomes, for me, a problem of light and shadow. Of texture and grain. I literally perceive the nude as a type of landscape or still life. When I step away from the canvas the nude becomes naked again. A human... of course the model doesn't lose those qualities just because I'm sketching or painting him or her, their intrinsic sensuality is still there in the rendering too, but my perception of them is affected by the act of interpreting them. This series of works is a sort of annotation on that perceptual shift."

The artist has also created mixed media works—time-lapsed morphologies where superimposed layers are revealed fleetingly or an image passes through colour shifts—a psychadelic Warhol of cryptic Marilyns. The whole back wall of the gallery is occupied by a giant curved cinema screen playing a slowly evolving work Riddle of the Sphynx. On this canvas no attempt is made to bury the prone figure in its textural nest, it literally is the smooth sand dunes. The Egyptian Sphynx is imposed in the left corner, echoed by a small replica statue placed in the foreground. The sonic component of the work, by composer Mike Ratledge, makes reference to the Greek Sphynx in its intriguing narration.

The Sphynx in this artwork is the female principle, capricious as the femme fatale riddler who devours those that cannot solve her riddle. She is the ancient goddess, an erotic invitation to bind with the fertile Earth in her prone form. And she is the voice that speaks exclusively to women as they come to terms with their bodies, attracted and repulsed by their fertility. Intimate Topographies might be read as an artist's self-portrait in quantised portions. But the commentary goes beyond that, delving into what it means to be who you are. A japanese waka by Ono no Komachi accompanies the painting Intertidal I: Ocean—a stark portrait of the artist's pelvis. Ono no Komachi was one of the great woman poets of the Man'yōshū from the early Heian period and a legendary beauty. It reads:

Doesn't he realise
that I am not the swaying kelp
where the seaweed gatherer
can come as often as he wants

WHERE : Nuna Penthouse Gallery 1
WHEN : Now