by Millree Hughes
"In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness. Laura Mulvey, 1989
In many of Lisa Yuskavage's paintings we often see the female subject reacting to being looked at with detached self-consciousness. It's even more the case in John Currin's paintings where increasingly his women's glassy out-of-it ness seems almost satirical.
Jenna Gribbon's new show of paintings at Fredericks & Freiser are also about desiring a woman. But they are filled with the very present presence of the love object.
In the front gallery are a suite of large paintings on a single theme -- Gribbon's girlfriend Mackenzie Scott, creator of indie rock band Torres. We, the viewer, are in the place of the artist, our Mons Venus rising up to meet the lower third of the painting with Scott looking at/into us from between our legs. It's a moment of cunnilingus interruptus. A deeply intimate moment. On a plateau of desire for both parties with options on how to proceed. This journey from arousal to orgasm is finite for men (the ultimate beginning, middle and end narrative) there's no room for sensually endowed downtime between orgasms. No room for imagining the paint quickened by the Waters of Yin.*
Sometimes the large paintings take on the composition of the Yoni.
Gribbon's legs playing the role of the labia majora while her lover's arms balancing on her knees, completes the diamond shape, turning McKenzie's head into the clitoris. Her mind and the artist's body as one, in the pursuit of pleasure.
Three characteristics intermix to separate her work from the work of other mimetic painters. It is loose; as if working fast and still being accurate proves that figuration does not have to be the laborious re-representation of reality. It could be something new, something fresh. Gribbon's great skill at rendering form makes a beautiful woman magically appear on this glossy surface, like Vivian's^ the Lady of the Lake.
Secondly the camera is constantly in play, not as the replacer of representational painting but as its servant. She exploits how the camera phone has infiltrated our most intimate realities so that we almost don’t notice it. Blorking# the image can push its contrast or light levels. And photos can help an artist speed up choices about form and light from different perspectives.
Thirdly, she has absorbed the lessons of abstraction. A field of yellow splodges a "spot painting" anywhere else, is also blossom here, giant yellow ornamental onion gone to seed. Abstraction's instantness is used so that the image can be read just for what it is initially, loose marks or patterns of marks on a surface.
Jenna's pallette in the first room -- the statement room -- is flesh, pink and beige. Lilac in the shadows on a leg or saffron yellow reflexive light, bounced onto a tummy. And behind the figure a darkened room in green gray, spot lit by an iPhone flash. Mauve dusk and the first rays of morning after a night of sex
In the back room her color range opens out again. Gribbons is all sunlit gardens and interiors that flash with objects that are sometimes just flickers of colored paint. Mackenzie is still the subject as the artist wonders at all the ways that she can "be."
The show is a love song. Painted in an oily caress. The loved one in your viewpoint, your sights (like a wild doe), under surveillance, in adoration, every way that you can look.
The smaller paintings are not a vision of women behaving badly, not if they're really free to be themselves. What's "bad" about that? Without caveats about tummy fat and saggy boobs and all the murderous demands that the media makes on "the female" form.
The artist doesn't "own" her. muse. This is a woman and a woman after all, the ancient rules of the dominant male and his mate don't have to apply. Jenna Gribbon side steps the detaching or reifing tendency of erotic painting by reducing the distance between the subject and the viewer both physically and emotionally. We know that the subject knows she's being seen but she’s not in thrall to the gaze. She's not posing or acting
The "gazer" has just touched the subject. It just happened, the loved one is in mid touch. And the artist is the toucher not just the viewer. Reification hasn't had TIME to happen.
* Each of the Five Elements has a Yin (feminine) and a Yang (masculine). WATER nurtures wood and is absorbed by it (trees and plants). Water puts out fire. The yin (feminine) energy is a lake or pond, deep water or ebbing tide.
^Viviane is a corruption of the Welsh word chwyfleian (also spelled hwimleian, chwibleian, et al., in medieval Welsh sources), meaning "a wanderer of pallid countenance."
#Blorking a slang term used on the FB Page Involuntary Painting about an image, pushed and distorted by the phone's various filters