Lisa Brice, reinventing the representation of the woman body
To finish this year with a good note, I wanted to talk about this artist that I discovered and came across several times in exhibitions this year. I have seen her beautiful work at Tate Britain Life Between Islands: Caribbean British Art 1950-Now, and the Hayward Gallery in Mixing it Up, and was instantly drawn into her incredible use of colours and rendering of characters.
Lisa Brice is a South-African artist, today based between London and Trinidad. Firstly focusing on photography, video and printmaking, she shifted to figurative painting when she immigrated to the UK in 1998. In a residency at Gasworks Studios, she met painters such as Godfried Donkor, which opened conversations on contemporary painting. She also had a residency in Trinidad, working alongside Donkor, Peter Doig, Che Lovelace and Chris Ofili, under the mentoring of Embah (Emheyo Bahabba).
What incited her to paint was the uncertainty of the medium in the subject-matter. Adapting her own version of Edouard Manet's or Vallotton's or Millais' artworks, she uses a strong saturated colour theme – cobalt blue,ultramarine and vermilion -, representing female bodies, liberated from the male gaze and self-possessed. The use of this palette makes Brice's characters ghostly or non human looking. She explained she used them to imitate the twilight colours or neon lights.
Her colour technique and the objects such as cigarettes or alcohol bottles give what she called 'self-possessed, matter-of-fact or provocative subjects.'1. By regrouping women together, she reinvents this former image given to women; objectified, isolated, confined in one specific space. Her use of these particular colours also refers to the Carnival character of the 'Blue Devil' in Trinidad. Along with the Black Devil and Red Devil, the Blue Devil character parade with their bodies completely covered with paint or oil. The twilight rendering also refers to the experience of J'ouvert, happening at dawn before Carnival: a liberating experience.
What really attracted me in her paintings were the saturation of the images and the freedom you could feel from the characters. I love the constant presence of a cat, painted in dark blue, which used to be a symbol of magic and fantasy, treachery and wilderness, but Brice takes her inspiration from Edouard Manet's Olympia with the cat at the end of the bed. While the yawning and curious cats might bring us some kind of comfort and homely feelings, the hissing one definitely breaks the party scene to convey of a dominance and protective sentiment.
The way the works are executed is also very gripping: some of the paintings looks like cinematic outtakes, representing characters as if the scene was caught before filming a movie. Playing with space, Lisa Brice creates a frame within a frame: inviting us in private scenes, playing with reflection and mirrors (Smoke and mirrors), looking into separate room (Midday Drinking Day, After Embah), or not by leaving us at the door (Untitled (After Vallotton)). The characters she paints are very unique and take the viewer into the painting by almost always looking directly at us.
Lisa Brice had a great number of shows around South Africa, England, Europe and North America. She is represented by Stephen Friedman Gallery in London, Salon 94 in New York.
Salon 94 Notes