[“Man Smoking” (2009), acrylic on canvas. “Teodoro, Jacques & Sailor” (2009), acrylic on canvas. “Woman Alone” (2009), acrylic on canvas.]
In this fourth solo show of new paintings by Thortis Adalsteinsdottir at Stefan Stux Gallery, viewers are offered a look into her idiosyncratic inner landscapes of tawdry, Weimaresque other worlds. Cohabited by animals and people, these dreamlike scenes raise questions of traditional logic and viewing expectations. Images of circuitry’s traversal magnetism and the body’s sexual geography in Adalsteinsdottir’s work correspond to a self-conscious discourse found in écriture féminine (feminine writing).
Écriture féminine (“gendered women's writing”) arose from feminist literary theory that came out of France in the 1970s. Poststructuralist feminist theorist Hélène Cixous asserted in her 1975 essay “The Laugh of the Medusa”: Woman must write herself: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies.” Thus, she saw women breaking from a male defined and dominated milieu. Elaine Showalter—who developed “gynocriticism” and its practice—held that écriture féminine delineated the feminine body and female difference in language and text from the status quo of “phallocentric” discourse in the non-neutral medium of language. In other words, both called for putting into words the “unthinkable” and “unthought.” Adalsteinsdottir attempts to do this with images.
Adalsteinsdottir does iconic animals and fairy tales precisely because she is attempting to sidestep the battery of gender constructions and resultant assumptions. In her paintings, animals appear has human personified to convey the unthinkable and unthought and stress a separation from gender constructions. In an oblique way, themes in her work imply cycles of life, death, and rebirth through such a rule-transcending and intoxicating iconography of human and animal imagery. Yet, there is a question whether the realm of the body can be immune to social and gender condition in such an essentialist effort to advance a more “pure” essence.
Rather than the fluidly joyous celebrations of life exemplifying the work of “fauve” (beast) Henri Matisse (1869–1954), the bold and vivid color found in Adalsteinsdottir’s canvases offer respite from cryptic narratives. Despite this, viewing her paintings in this show, I was reminded of color parallels with Matisse’s “The Plum Blossoms” (1948). Heightened viewer absorption of salient patterns is aided by forms and colors that delight. Furthermore, large surfaces of those vivid colors and impactful patterns in her paintings indicate redemption: that happiness and fulfillment will ultimately (and cyclically) occur.
Adalsteinsdottir’s scenes are like frozen moments from dreams and nightmares in ways fantastic, farcical, and impassive. Her animals sometimes wear fishnet stockings, sometimes they carry razors, and yet other times they comfort or accompany humans. They are foils for her human figures in ways that highlight inherent danger, deception, vulnerability, and possibility. Indeed, the artist put forth this about her work: “The paintings carry gravity-free moments, often an ode to a loved one, more frequently a haunting event, a true event, and an event I wish for or fear might come true.”
Adalsteinsdottir has exhibited her paintings in such venues as the Reykjavik Art Museum, Knoxville Museum of Art, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter (Oslo), Frie Udstilling (Copenhagen), Konstakademien (Stockholm), and Royal College of Art (London).
Dog By the Spring
Thortis Adalsteinsdottir (Þórdís Aðalsteinsdóttir)
Through October 17, 2009
@ Stefan Stux Gallery
530 West 25th Street, NYC 10011