Bust

By Corinna Spencer
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painting - 2016 - 30x40cm

acrylic on canvas

Discussion

Catherine Haley Epstein
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Lovely observations Nigel. This too is one of my favorite pieces by Corinna, likely for different reasons. I'll digress here slightly - My question to the artist/community would be the convention of a faceless figure. While many of Corinna's portraits are frontal, with vestiges of faces, they are not faceless. Many painters have used the faceless convention to aplomb (e.g. Gideon Rubin, don't love the work though it's commercially successful). I've never been able to fully understand, or appreciate the faceless figure and feel it represents a much larger symptom in the zeitgeist. In the gallery setting, the less face the more seemingly easy it is to project oneself onto the piece, therefore more appealing to more people. It's rare to see fully rendered faces gaining major attention (except for Chuck Close, and a handful of others). Even Michaƫl Borremans rarely has a face facing front, confronting a viewer. I recent;y saw a showing of Hannah Van Bart's work and I always find it compelling - the face confronts the viewer in all the paintings. Thoughts on faces?

Nigel P
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Hi Catherine & Corinna

Wonder if you'd indulge me in relating a small coincidence? I'm reading Catherine's piece and then came across the 'faceless" images by artist Deborah Sheedy on Instagram - comprising of collaged works, where the heads of depicted figures are pasted over, or cut away. One effect is to estrange, or at least to perform estrangement as a knowing Surrealist homage. Maybe of more interest, I was struck by how the artist tagged a number of these as associated with struggles for self definition. Sometimes it's the facelessness of authoritarian bureaucracy, at others, an individual crisis, a loss of personal identity. Sheedy offers a Sylvia Plath quote: 'And I sit here without identity: Faceless. My head aches".

Wonder whether there is a limit, a minimal measure beyond which a being fails to represent to others - becomes faceless. Passport photographs, iris recognition technology etc involve specific tolerances outside of which images fail to be understood as viable faces. We see each other through conventions framed by administrative technologies- seem to remember Chuck Close started his grid portraits around the time that Scientific America featured early digital imaging experiments in mid 70s. Remember painting my own pixel heads and trying to place them just the right distance away so that they were almost legible.

Which brings me back to Corinna, and her sequences of ladies - how much the paint can smudge and streak but remain within the conventions of facial recognition- within the frame of our expectations?

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Nigel P
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I've been a fan of Corinna's painting for some time, since becoming acquainted with her serieses of 'ladies' shown here and on social media. Typically these images epitomise the play of difference & repetition, her signature compositions involve multiple portrait paintings arranged in grid formations. Loosely painted heads emerge from ominously dark grounds - each head, individual and unique, yet sharing some familial resemblances with their kin. The multiple pairs of eyes staring back at the viewer are from another age - possibly complicit in some unspecified institutionalised trauma, or just actors' mugshots for a gothic costume drama.

There is a powerful tension in these works between the conceptual frame - the structured presentation of historical stereotypes, rubbing up against the fluency of paint and the marvellous theatricality of the narrative conceit. I find a similar tension holds here, in this painting: Bust. Familiar framing devices are in play - the roundel figures as uncanny historical anachronism held in place by a thicker white overpainting covering the rest of the picture plane like ruined plaster. The Bust - turned away, commemorative of some long forgotten triumph or poignant defeat.

Finally, I think it's the knowing delicacy of the thing, the nuanced compositional control of depth between the two vertical lines, keeping the image, the narrative, hovering in its theatrical indeterminacy that really demonstrates the facility and fluency of Corinna's practice.

Wonderful stuff!

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Corinna Spencer
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Obsession, love and death are central to my work and explored through intimate portraits.

Artist Statement

Obsession, love and death are central to my work and explored through intimate portraits.

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