ANNETTE BEZOR: It’s Complicated…



2 - 25 Jul 2010


Exhibition text by Richard Grayson, 2010

Annette Bezor often presents us with images where women’s eyes - collected, cool and unwavering - stare out from the canvas. As in the cliché of the painted portrait, they make an engagement with our own eyes, and their stare follows us around the room. They don’t blink or recoil, but remain constant. A little challenging. We need only to return the limpid outward stare for a moment to know that the lines of communication between our eyes and their eyes, the implied syntaxes and exchanges, are complicated and deeply charged. In some paintings the gaze is downcast, averted, veiled and demure, but it still remains central to our engagement and experience of the image.

Part of this charge is biological: direct eye to eye contact is pretty much at the abc end of human alphabet of behavior and sexuality  - as are gazes deflected and demurred - but on this physical base human culture has loaded layers and layers of reflection and iconography, designed both to magnify and deny the implied communication, and the different ways the female face and female stare has been represented in Western Art tracks the complex cultural constructions and framings of sexuality and power in our culture.

Historically they are representations that have been determined by men. With her quotation of works by others - or by echoing the formats and styles of mainstream representation - Annette Bezor actively positions herself in the viewer’s consciousness as a woman who is making works that depict male representations of women. The simple act of foregrounding this mediation adds considerable complexity to our readings of the paintings, especially as her attitude to the images that she is quoting is not editorialized or narrated in any obvious way. It is left to us to make sense of it, to work out how the artist herself stands in relationship to the agendas and power relationships that she has placed at the center of her work.

One series of paintings feature female faces that have been overlaid by broad bands of bright translucent colour –blues, yellows, bright pinks - that recall silk scarves as well as abstract painting – lines of colour to be found in a Morris Louis maybe. Some of the heads are of non-western faces, faces that in their original representation would have been considered exotic; another is of the artist herself. The bands speak of ideas of beauty and decoration: both at the level of the platonic aspirations of abstract practices and at the day-to-day level dressing up. There is a political charge here as to how absolutes might be constructions and the ways that these might be shaped and used by one group to control another. Such reflections are given additional resonance and charge through the idea of veiling, of a (part) obscuring the gaze (and in turn being ‘protected’ from the gaze of others), which has a strong erotic dimension as evinced in the peek-a-boo games of seduction, but veiling also speaks of fear, of denial, suppression and control, and both are to be found in current debates to do with the scarf and veil. In ‘A little posing’ the artist’s eyes make contact with ours, but from behind floating veils of colour, a strand of blond hair escapes the turban that covers her head. Despite her cool collected gaze we remain uncertain whether she is contained, autonomous, and removing herself from our intrusive stare or whether she is being herself erased and removed by a vortex of beauty and colour.

Richard Grayson