Monday, November 9, 2009

Penny Siopsis - South African/Greek Artist

Artist's statement:

" In my recent work I use 'found' objects including found film. I am particularly interested in the things people leave behind by force of circumstance; things which embody very specific memories and experiences, yet have wider social and cultural resonance. These objects are complex subjective traces of emotional investment not always easily expressed. Being 'found' and often made and treasured for intimate and private reasons, these objects are emblematic of a merging of private and public worlds. "

The images are powerfully loaded: while the deep shades of red draw one in, the content repulses and disturbs. The simple titles of the prints belie the tragedy of the images. The content of the “Shame” series deals with rape, the abuse of power, psychological trauma, damage, torture and agony. The viewer is confronted with images of gross violation and devastating injustice, which evoke strong emotive responses of desperation and outrage.

The girl-child who is ‘shamed’, ‘humiliated’, ‘disgraced’ and ‘embarrassed’ illustrates what the artist refers to as the “poetics of vulnerability”. In the print Sorry the child is naked but for a thin blood-stained cloth draped over her back and is bending down in an incredibly vulnerable and compromising position.

In Three Trees, a naked woman sits against a tree, her legs splayed and tied with rope to two other trees. Two figures kneel over her, pushing her legs farther apart. The image is rendered in sensual pours of deep reds, pinks, grays and purples that form a lacquered, visceral sheen. The sharp tug between seductive surface and troubling content is the core of the Johannesburg-based artist’s work, which for years has employed erotic and violent allegorical images of women culled from such sources as Japanese woodblock prints, news stories and ancient myths.

For her latest body of work, made in 2008-09, the artist used only glue and ink on canvas, producing liquid, luminous swaths of color. Siopis’s wet reds and pinks vividly conjure meaty images of blood and flesh.

In Anonymous, which depicts an androgynous seated figure holding a flower, glossy saturated crimsons evoke the dense red of a blood clot, and the figure looks skinless. A tiny baby is barely visible in Miracle, falling through an almost entirely abstract composition of swirled and splashed color that resembles celestial gases; in this painting, Siopis uses gold, cream, mahogany and a splatter of dark brown the color of dried blood.

A well-established artist and noted academic, Penny Siopis is particularly interested in the ways that national history and personal memory intersect in visual narratives of the South African social climate. She is a South African of Greek descent., who was born in 1953 in the semi-desert town of vryburg in the northern Cape. She now resides in Johannesburg where she works as an artist and lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand. She studied fine arts at Rhodes University, Grahamstown. She was awarded a British Council scholarship and continued her studies in the United Kingdom. Her work has been shown in many international biennales including the Venice Biennale (1993), the Johannesburg Biennales (1995, 1997), the Kwangju Biennale (1995) and the Havana Biennales (1994, 1997). She has also participated in a many international exhibitions

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Stacy Alexander