Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Review of Helen Finney: Note to Self at Xavier White’s, Blackheath

Helen Finney: Note to Self
Xavier White’s, Blackheath
25 November – 29 December 2011

Glossy lips, plump and ripe, oily skin, hair follicles… Every minute detail, every blemish, nothing escapes these larger than life portraits by Helen Finney, on display this month at Xavier White’s in Blackheath. Painted in thick oils, and focusing in so closely on just the eyes, nose and mouth, these brutal yet beautiful canvases are honest to a fault. Clogged eyelashes, as if applied with an oversized mascara brush, strands of a fringe, glistening teeth. From a distance, the palate appears quite minimal – mottled skin tones, sometimes pallid, other times sun-kissed – yet as you draw in, you notice the many many colours, applied in an almost pointilliste manner, creating the illusion of human flesh. There is something quite abstract about these images, despite their most figurative of subject matter. The scale is so immense, and the viewpoint so intimate, that it becomes almost impossible to tell who is male, who is female. Does it even matter? The face is reduced to a bundle of features, shared by us all. And yet no two noses are the same; each person is recognisable as an individual. Especially the paintings of Finney herself, her eyes a startling blue, her skin a delicate porcelain.

Two larger works stand out from amongst the snapshots – Dear Jon… and You Never Saw Me. Each of these portrays a full length Finney, or, to be more accurate, several full length Finneys, overlaid as shadowy silhouettes against a dark background. In the former, where she is on the phone, this suggests not so much a sense of movement, but of duration. You ask yourself: what is being said? Is it a break up call? A make up call? Trying to read the expression gives no clues, since, as with the faces all around, the features do not speak. They are perfect, they are precise, they are truthful, but perhaps too truthful, and too decontextualised. Human flesh, viscerality, tangibility. But abstracted beyond emotion.

Similarly, You Never Saw Me, which shows Finney from behind, dressed in stockings and a basque, with buttocks bared and hand on hip, is nowhere near as erotic as it sounds. Here the blurred outlines suggest something of a vision, a dream – indeed, as the title suggests, was this scene ever witnessed, or just imagined? Again, flesh, presence, instinct. A harsh rawness. Humanity stripped bare.

There is something unnerving about these works. They draw you in and repel you all at once. Beauty and fascination, but the horror of reality revealed uncomfortably close at hand. One thing is for sure – I would not want to be Finney’s model!


All © the artist

Note to Self

Dear Jon...

You Never Saw Me


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