Amanda Church Heads and Tales Espacio 20/20 21 August – 17 October 2015
At the centre of this exhibition is a series of five new paintings, each of which depicts the face of a man familiar to the artist. The works, all made in 2014, mark Amanda Church’s continuing interest in a portraiture shaped by silhouette-style figuration amid incessantly flat, bright surfaces. They are also evidence of her commitment to loose means of representation, where the image of a figure is suggested – often through just a few decisive outlines -- and consequently left undetermined. While these ”head pictures” are the first time that Church has focused closely on facial detail, rather than the anonymous biomorphic configurations for which she is known, they are also the most compositionally spare works that she has created to date, with each face dominating the frame. In her portrayals of these faces, Church reduces each one to its most vital elements -- the components that make each person’s countenance distinctive and unrepeatable, whether the curve of an eyelid or a brow, or the creases that become indented upon skin. Expression, created by movements of the face, is firmly connected to this reduction: Church is not simply concerned with the physical, but, rather, how mental processes are embedded into the anatomical. Instead of using the term ”portraits,” which may in the first instance relate most immediately to external appearance, the artist refers to the paintings as “psychological representations of faces,” a point emphasised by the titles (Thinking Man, Crying Man, Man with No Mouth). Similarly, the luminous yellow hue used by Church as the base colour of each face – a shade she describes as ”electric” – highlights the emotional presence of the figure as an active organism. The slender, curved lines, which have animated Church’s vocabulary for some time, are intensely precise, creating clear-cut shapes to delineate facial contours and features. In Eggheads (one of the three accompanying paintings in the show), facial definition is completely overridden by the outlines of large, bulbous heads; if identifiable as anything approaching specific, they can be seen as “group portraits” derived from the artist’s drawings of audiences. Even so, the painter’s hand is discernible --not through visible brushstrokes, but through the distinctly unmanufactured radiance of the surface texture which Church creates by applying “many, many thin layers of oil paint and turpentine.” By deploying the most minimal mark-making to signify character, Church questions how the essence of a person can be both determined and illustrated. What these paintings ultimately reveal, then, is the instinctive and deeply personal responses we feel when looking at a person and forming an image of them in our memory. In this way, Church’s depictions are reflections on what we see and how we remember, as well as the distortions that take place during such processes.