Despite social conventions that “everyone should be on their best behaviour”, eroticism can now be embraced as a recreational activity in Lisa Yuskavage’s third solo exhibition at the David Zwirner gallery. A vivid series of female nudes overly occupied in exploring their sexuality within surreal landscapes and dramatically lit interiors.
With each painting coexists a psychological and sordid narrative behind human beauty. This duality increasingly obscures the viewer’s ability to interpret and contextualise the fantastical worlds that the nudes are situated. A general conclusion that one arrives at from these vibrantly lush sceneries is that they serve as a playground in which the young women playfully reside. Yet their uninhibited behaviour hints at a sexual psychology that is perverse and even sadistic. For example in a small but psychologically powerful painting that evokes sensuality and danger is Stormy Mound (2011). A portrayal of a solitary young female kneeling promiscuously on a beautifully lush earth mound creates a psychological drama as the viewer is conflicted between feelings of sympathy for the isolated girl and mistrust due to her sexually implicit body language. This conundrum is heightened by the ominously violet skyscape and the whisking of Yuskavage’s brushstrokes; a desolate and uninviting atmosphere contrasted with the young girl’s invitingly carnal kneeling pose.
The duality of dangerous beauty is repeated in all of Yuskavage’s paintings, some more sexually explicit than others. In one of her many mundanely titled works Little Afternoon Feeding (2011), two young prepubescent female nudes seem, upon first glance, to be innocently picking and feeding one another lollipop shaped fruits. However upon close viewer inspection, the viewer is suddenly becomes aware of the youthful erotica conveyed through their bodily dispositions. Yuskavage bestows her figures with curvaceous bodies and breasts, it is the indecent acts that they partake in that stir senses of arousal and eroticism…I know I have been stirred several times. The painting contains a squatted woman feeding her seated counterpart in a richly lush environment. Immediately the viewer is confronted with a lewd sense of vaginal pleasure that is explicitly prompted by the sitter’s foot. Additionally, the seemingly benevolent feeding act subtly hints of masochism with the sitter submissively consuming what is being “given” to her. The erotic pathos that the artist paints revolves around a cyclic correlation between innocence, beauty, and sexuality conjuring concurent emotions of great endearment and perplexity. Is it possible that a group of youthful, innocent looking girls- angelic in countenance and voluptuous in form- have the capacity to ignominiously succumb to such dishonourable acts of carnal desire? This perceptual bemusement is compounded by the disturbing presence of village bystanders that- who are painted in many of Yuskavage’s outdoor compositions -overlook the artist’s young protagonists without any clear dissent or animosity. In fact, their voyeuristic dispositions seem almost consenting to the debauchery that Yuskavage’s young nudes indulge in, evoking the idea that just maybe, such public indecency can be acceptable; even perhaps inspiriting. Though the notion may sound inconceivable, the absurdity of it is strikingly evident in the waywardness that is exhibited in the richly painted diptych titled Little Outskirts(2011). The drearily yellow and umber skyscape with its beautifully vegetated foreground, is queerly juxtaposed with the explicit act of sadism exhibited by the two young girls- one of whom is kneeling on all four whilst her companion sits playfully on her backside. This painting is irrefutably the artist’s most deviant portrayal as is accentuated by the dainty insertion of flowers into the kneeling girl’s anus. Intensifying this highly aberrant spectacle is the voyeuristic demeanour of the meticulously dressed male onlooker in the background. As the observant Farmer leans suavely on his cane the viewer can only help but wonder what meaning lies behind this visual theatre of nymphomania?
The biggest and most spectacular of these theatrical paintings is a vivid green triptych which is amusingly titled, Triptych (2011). Green clouds and mountains dominate this three- panel composition and is overtly erotic as the rest of the works. On the right panel a carefree girl lies with only a thong and striped socks while sucking on a lollipop as she gazes into the distance; in the center, another figure lies on a table with her legs splayed, her dress casually hiked up exposing her vagina. Within the background, a group of village women- all of whom are contrastingly dressed from head to toe- appear to be sternly observing the girls’ reprehensible behaviour. This salacious psychological narrative coupled with the comparably large compositional scale, entice the viewer to intriguingly scan and glean in pursuit of knowledge and understanding behind the extreme dichotomies between rational and irrational, inhibited and uninhibited, exotic and erotic, and between innocence and sinful.
Such social paradigms combined with the visual surrealism that Yuskavage masterfully paints easily fudges the boundaries between what is real and what is fiction. It is also a psychological paradigm that doesn’t instantaneously strike the viewer at first sight. In fact, such is the visual complexity of Yuskavage’s narrative that as the viewer strives to search for cognitive answers they inadvertently become one with the village people, participating in voyeuristic acts that are as “uncivilised” as the lewd behaviour that the young girls perform- whether it be by themselves or with each other. Yuskavage’s adeptness with light and shadow is as sensuous as the nudes she paints (regardless of how young they are) and this exhibition will certainly leave all those unwary gobsmacked…whether or not they have a lollipop in their mouths.