Monthly Archives: December 2017

Daughters of Persephone

This essay appeared on tamawuj.org in the context of Sharjah Biennial 13:

Jupiter replied . . .  ‘Proserpine shall return to heaven, but on only one condition: that no food has touched her lips since that is the law decreed by the Fates.’ He spoke and Ceres felt sure of regaining her daughter. But the Fates would not allow it, for the girl had broken her fast, and wandering innocently, in a well-tended garden, she had picked a reddish-purple pomegranate fruit hanging from a tree and, taking seven seeds from its yellow rind, squeezed them in her mouth.

—Ovid, The Metamorphoses, Book V[1]

First Seed

Persephone and the myth of the pomegranate seeds cropped up in conversation a few months ago, during “The Golden Feast,” a meal consisting of food and drink that were that color, which my friend Hermione hosted at her place in the East End of London. She and her boyfriend, Curtis, came up with the idea after I stumbled on them sipping a turmeric-flavored golden latte in a Shoreditch café around the corner from a local gallery, where they had come to see me in conversation with the artist Peter McDonald about his show “Mushrooms of Language.” This may be why, when making provisions for our “trip” two weeks later, a pomegranate caught her eye in the fruit aisle of the local supermarket. “I got the pomegranate for us,” she explained afterwards, “because of its bejeweled, numinous qualities—like something you’d find in an underground cave.”

Dense clusters of luscious bead-like seeds, still attached to their rind, were already laid out in a bowl with some blueberries on top, offsetting the seeds’ ruby color, by the time I arrived with the cubensis. Hermione carefully placed the gold caps on a matching glass plate bearing fanciful gilded motifs. “We should probably leave the pomegranates for later,” I said, mindful of the instructions I was given not to eat or drink anything until the mushrooms took their full effect. “Surely, they’re an ally?” Hermione ventured.

Somehow she had gotten things back to front. In Greek mythology, the seeds that Persephone unwittingly consumed in the underworld—whether tricked into doing so by Hades, her ravisher, or acting of her own accord—nearly caused her to remain there forever. Yet in Hermione’s version of the story, as related to those at “The Golden Feast,” eating pomegranate seeds became a gesture of defiance: Persephone partook of the food of the dead while looking Hades straight in the eye, knowing full well it was not allowed.

Instead of eating the glossy, firm seeds that Hermione had encouraged me to squeeze between my teeth, I took to dropping them onto the wooden floor of her room. (At this point, the mushrooms had clearly started to work their magic.) Amazed by the muffled thud, I kept repeating: “There’s no echo,” grasping for the right analogy. The floorboards had become porous, as if made of cork, cushioning and absorbing the sound of the pomegranate seeds, not unlike the walls of an anechoic chamber, also known as a chambre sourde in French, which literally means “deaf chamber.” I had visited one in Paris a few months before. It struck me at the time that the discombobulating absence of an echo was akin to a body bereft of its shadow.

Anechoic chamber at IRCAM (Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music), Paris.

Second Seed

Memory is to a smell what an echo is to a sound: something that carries it, prolongs it, and gives it a body. For what became the artwork Essence/Seeds from Brazil, 2017, the artist João Modé had wanted to work with a fruit scent. He was looking specifically for the essence of caju, a fruit from his country, and found instead a fragrance evocatively called “Seeds of Brazil.” So inconspicuous as to be easily missed at the top of a landing, a tiny white bowl containing an essential oil of that name was the source of a delicate, warm aroma lingering in the air at the back of the house, which faces the Hagia Sophia and its rounded dome.

Land, 2014/2017, Modé’s second offering for “BAHAR,” a series of exhibitions and performances that brought me to Istanbul in May, took over a room located on the ground floor of the Abud Efendi Mansion. The second of four off-site projects staged as part of Sharjah Biennial 13, “BAHAR” (meaning “spring” in Turkish, Farsi, and other languages), organized by the curator Zeynep Öz, took as its starting point the word crops and explored, among other things, the themes of seed dormancy and the awakening of the seeds coinciding with the arrival of spring.

Sourced from a nursery on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, across the Bosphorus, plants from all over the world—one hundred-odd species of them—mixed their roots and foliage to form an indoor jungle in Modé’s Land. That this “multicultural micro-forest” should contain a pomegranate shrub seemed fitting, given its widespread cultivation in the Mediterranean region and beyond. Farmers grow pomegranates even in Brazil, though the trees are not as big and beautiful, the artist told me, as the ones he had seen on his travels in Turkey and Greece. In fact, it is a Brazilian custom to ring in the new year by eating seven pomegranate seeds (“just the smooth part covering the seed,” Modé specified) at the stroke of midnight. The seeds themselves—or the seeds within seeds—are kept in one’s wallet for the whole year to bring luck and prosperity.

Installation view, João Modé, Land, 2014/2017. BAHAR off-site project, organized in Istanbul as part of Sharjah Biennial 13, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

The New Year’s Eve ritual doubtless says more about the Brazilian obsession with the lucky number seven than anything else. And yet Persephone and her consort Pluto, another name for Hades, seem to lurk behind it like a half-forgotten song. Pluto, whose very name held the promise of wealth and riches, is Hades in his more auspicious guise. The child that the harvest goddess Demeter conceived out of wedlock in a thrice-plowed field was venerated alongside his mother and spouse in the secret agrarian cults reenacting the story of Persephone’s abduction and Demeter’s search for her daughter at Eleusis in Attica. Pluto shares with them such agrarian attributes as the stalk of grain, and is often portrayed with a horn of plenty, a cornucopia.

Third Seed

While in Istanbul, I arranged to visit the artist Aslı Çavuşoğlu. She suggested we meet at her studio, a stone’s throw from the Golden Horn. If you craned your neck, you could get a fine view of the start of Galata Bridge from a narrow side window. Somehow we got onto the subject of the exhibition “COLORI,” curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev at the Castello di Rivoli in Turin, where Çavuşoğlu’s Red/Red, 2015, which I had missed in the 2015 edition of the Istanbul Biennial, was on view. Over coffee, the artist told me how she found out about the crimson pigment traditionally made from the now-nearly-extinct Armenian cochineal, an insect found in the Aras (or Araks) river valley, and eventually tracked down a man who still extracts the red color in a laboratory, using a secret process. She traveled to Yerevan, Armenia to meet him and managed to obtain twelve grams of the extract, which she used to paint a series of monochromatic panels and book illustrations inspired by illuminated Armenian miniatures. To prove her story, which made artistic research sound like detective work, Çavuşoğlu produced a small vial containing what was left of the precious substance.

Installation view, Aslı Çavuşoğlu, Red/Red, 2015. SALTWATER, 14th Istanbul Biennial. Photo: Sahir Ugur Eren

The deep red ink was the color of a pomegranate. It brought to mind Sergei Parajanov’s 1969 film—the Russian title Цвет граната is translated as The Color of Pomegranates—which is loosely based on the life of the eighteenth-century Armenian bard Sayat Nova. (Sayat-Nova was the title Parajanov had intended for the film, but he was forced to remove all references to the poet’s name to get past Soviet censors.) Filled with often-abstruse symbolism, the successive tableaux informed by the aesthetics of Persian miniatures obey a dreamlike—and occasionally nightmarish—logic. Color, above all red, is deployed to dramatic effect, as in the famous opening shot featuring three pomegranates whose juice seeps through a white cloth, gradually revealing the contours of the ancient Kingdom of Armenia. The pomegranate motif is threaded through the film. The fruits usually come in threes but, in one disturbing scene, a group of young monks vociferously bite into hard, uncut pomegranate fruits as the pensive, Christ-like poet looks on. Incidentally, гранат (granat), the Russian word for pomegranate, also means garnet, the dark-red gemstone whose crystals bear a striking resemblance to the seed-lined chambers of a pomegranate.

Fourth Seed

A baroque-rococo masterpiece, lodged within an even older hospital complex in the heart of Naples, the Farmacia storica degli Incurabili is a thing of beauty. Accessed through an arcaded loggia, itself reached by means of twin, pleasingly curved staircases, the entrance room is fitted with wooden cabinets displaying neat rows of blue and white maiolica vases and jars; each had a unique design that, in the absence of labels, allowed the apothecaries to know which ointments and drug compounds they contained. This antechamber, where medicines were dispensed, leads into a more lavish grand salon and library, whose frescoed ceilings and sculptural ornamentation obey an elaborate decorative scheme, replete with Masonic symbolism.

Inside the Farmacia storica degli Incurabili (Historical Pharmacy of the Incurable) in Naples.

The back rooms—including a small laboratory full of alembics and other implements used in pharmaceutical preparations—were closed for restoration when I visited, having been urged to do so by a friend, who knew I would be traveling to Naples for an opening at MADRE, the nearby museum of contemporary art. Our guide offered to give us a quick tour. Amid sundry objects tucked away in a narrow passageway stood a sizable marble urn mounted on a pedestal. Framed by a floral motif, a bulging fruit sculpted in high relief on the urn rose above a green marble backdrop.

The guide informed us it was a melograno—Italian for pomegranate—the emblem of fertility. Made of choice Mondragone marble, the urn was designed to hold the equally precious acqua teriacale, for which the pharmacy was famous. Owing to its elaborate preparation and an ever-expanding list of rarefied ingredients—ranging from opium, myrrh, and saffron to viper’s meat—theriac was the most expensive of drugs. Its reputation as an effective antidote known to the ancients, as well as a universal panacea capable of curing all illnesses, was only starting to be challenged by the mid-eighteenth century, when the Farmacia storica degli Incurabili was built.

Among the virtues attributed to the concoction were its aphrodisiac and hallucinogenic properties, according to our guide. In her eyes, the former accounted for the prominence of the pomegranate symbol—not without some irony, given that the hospital specialized in the treatment of venereal diseases such as syphilis. As to the latter, it would appear that Bufotenin—a psychoactive substance naturally occurring in the skin of certain venomous toad species—was to blame.

Fifth Seed

The day after my visit to the Farmacia, I saw a tour guide pointing out the flowers of a pomegranate tree—or several—growing among the ruins in the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum. A couple nodded knowingly, but I had never seen a pomegranate in blossom before. I resisted the urge to pluck off one of the poppy-colored blooms set amid dark green foliage; fortunately, they were out of my reach. That very afternoon, I spotted some more pomegranate trees and shrubs near the vast outdoor swimming pool behind the Villa Oplontis, a few stops away on the Circumvesuviana railway line. The Roman villa that Poppaea Sabina, emperor Nero’s mistress and later his wife, had elected as her secondary residence lay at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, like Herculaneum, and it met with the same fate when the volcano erupted in AD 79.

Red and yellow ochre are the dominant tones of the wall paintings unearthed at the Villa of Poppaea in Oplontis, long buried beneath protective layers of volcanic debris and ash, and remarkably well-preserved as a result. One of them depicts Hercules (after whom the Greek colony of Herculaneum was named) in the Garden of the Hesperides. Conceived with the central niche of the caldarium in mind, this fine, naturalistic fresco shows the barely-clad hero standing beside a large tree, his right arm extended in the direction of two round, reddish fruits placed on a nearby boulder, as if to taunt him.

Fresco c. 90-25 BCE depicting Hercules in the Garden of the Hesperides, the Villa Oplontis, Naples.

These appeared to be Hera’s immortality-granting “golden apples,” the ones that Hercules was tasked with stealing in his penultimate labor, except that they looked neither golden nor like apples. They resembled pomegranates more than any of the other fruits associated with the goddess. Fruits tend to be indeterminate, and easily confused, in biblical as in mythological accounts. Apples, especially, are fated to stand in for all (forbidden) fruits. The trees in the Garden of the Hesperides, grafted from the branches the Earth goddess Gaia gave Hera on her wedding day, may have borne oranges, pomegranates, or pommes tout courtA pomegranate—from the Latin pomum for “apple” and granatum, meaning “seeded”—is, after all, an apple with many seeds.

Sixth Seed

Casa Melograno, on the island of Stromboli, near Sicily, is one in a cluster of holiday homes built around an older, more imposing private residence that locals still refer to as “Il Castello.” The two-story mansion, with its fine stone-framed windows, stands out among the modest whitewashed houses in the Piscità settlement, near the end of the habitable stretch of Stromboli. The name leapt out at me on the morning of my arrival on the Aeolian Island, straight off the night ferry from Naples, as I walked past the house and spotted a lone pomegranate tree in its front garden. I was looking for La Lunatica, the villa where I would be staying for about a week for a residency with the artist Gaia Fugazza, the curator Daria Khan, and the photographer and publisher Giovanna Silva. It lay hidden behind Casa Melograno, at the bottom of a narrow path that skirts Il Castello. On a moonlit night, when the palm trees cast long shadows across the road, it looked like a haunted castle.

We were there to conduct some unorthodox “research activities” in preparation for a group show in central London, and to gather materials for a publication linking the two volcanic portals to the underworld through which Jules Verne’s heroes go down and come back up again in The Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864). With that in mind, on the evening slated for our ascent of the active volcano, we agreed to meet back at the house where Geko—a longtime resident of the island who set up the local plant nursery—was to stage a shamanic drumming ceremony, following our descent from the mountain. The pulsing rhythm of the drum is meant to induce a trance-like state, ideally resulting in an encounter with one’s inner animal guide. To set the whole process in motion, Geko had instructed us to visualize an opening of some sort—be it a cave or a well—leading into the earth. But owing to sheer exhaustion from the six-hour climb, or a failure of imagination, the drumming did not do much for me. My companions fared somewhat better.

Silva told us the next day that the opening she pictured was a cave she had visited years before in a sanctuary at Eleusis. We had just finished reading aloud passages from classics of katabatic literature (stories narrating journeys of descent into the underworld), inspired in part by the drumming session, out on the terrace of La Lunatica. The cave in question, known as Hades’s grotto, lies on the grounds of the sanctuary dedicated to the god who abducted Kore, Persephone in her maidenly guise, and brought her back up through a well located on its precincts—or so claimed the priests who presided over the Lesser and the Great Mysteries, celebrated respectively in spring and at harvest time in Eleusis.

In The Greek Myths, Robert Graves suggests a number of possible locations where the Rape of Persephone or Proserpine (“the fearful one”) may have occurred, ranging from Sicily to Crete to Attica. Ovid sets the scene in a glade of everlasting spring surrounding a deep pool by the name of Pergus (the modern-day lake of Pergusa), near the walls of Enna, a city at the foot of Mount Etna in the center of Sicily—tantalizingly close to the Aeolian Islands. This is where Dis (Pluto) beheld the maiden, as she was gathering flowers with her companions, and snatched her. Nothing remains of the temple dedicated to Demeter who, with her daughter Persephone, was the object of a cult at Enna, but a grotto from which Pluto was believed to have emerged is thought to be the navel of Sicily.

Hades’s cave and sanctuary at Eleusis, Greece.

Seventh Seed

The Fates had decreed that whoever ate or drank in the underworld would be condemned to remain there forever. As a result, Persephone, who consumed between three and seven seeds—according to different versions of the myth—while she was held captive by Hades, would dwell each year in the underworld for as many months. This is one account of the origin of seasons, since during the months Persephone spends beneath the ground—not unlike a seed (“a sweet young seedling” is precisely how the grief-stricken goddess describes her lost daughter in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter)—Demeter goes into mourning and the earth no longer bears crops; conversely, the moment when Persephone comes back and is reunited with Demeter marks the onset of spring. Part chthonic deity, part vegetation goddess, Persephone personifies the dormancy of the seeds and the rebirth of nature.

Each of the seven “seeds” above explores an image—or cluster of images—connected to the pomegranate and its potent symbolism as both a fertility emblem and food of the dead. Together they make up an anatomy of the fruit and a travelogue of sorts: I brought the seeds back from travels—for work and pleasure—that spanned a period of three months, from April to June 2017. The physical journeys were doubled by other “trips,” induced by the use of magic mushrooms, shamanic drumming, and meditation techniques. I’m not sure what all these connections reveal other than that, when we become interested in a given subject, we start seeing it everywhere.

 

[1] From a translation by A. S. Kline,
http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/Metamorph5.htm#anchor_Toc64106320

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Nicola Tyson’s grotesque bodies and faces

This essay appeared in Nicola Tyson: Beyond the Trace Exhibition Guide at The Drawing Room, London:

Drawing may be the starting point for Nicola Tyson’s better-known work in painting, but for the artist it is also an end in itself. Most of her drawings, in fact, are made for their own sake. ‘When working in a sketchbook, it’s only those [drawings] that feel like they could be developed further, through the introduction of colour, that I pull out and use as the basis of a painting,’ Tyson insists.1 In those instances, she tends to project what may have been a rapidly executed drawing directly onto canvas, before beginning the painstaking process of fleshing it out with colour.

The artist has often distinguished the slow and deliberate manner in which she paints from her more intuitive and quickly executed drawings; but that’s not to say that all her drawings are dashed off. ‘The larger drawings can be extremely slow to complete because they may involve shading and cross-hatching,’ she explains. ‘I feel my way to completion – much as I do with paintings – and may leave and return to them over many days or weeks.’ The recent and new works on paper brought together for Beyond the Trace at Drawing Room vary considerably in their size, the materials used (ink, graphite, acrylic paint) and format (vertical, horizontal, square).

The scale of the work determines the thickness of the paper support; for her larger drawings the artist tends to prefer thicker, more resilient paper stock. Opting for graphite or ink does not radically alter the way the artist works since, as she puts it, she ‘very rarely need[s] to erase anything: ‘mistakes’ are incorporated or used as a springboard for gear changes in mark-making’. Tyson admits that working like this can be nerve-wracking but for her it is ‘the only way to get to and keep on target in finding a ‘truthful’ image – one that grows itself’. To understand what she means by this, we must delve deeper into the intuitive and fluid – as opposed to rational and deliberate – process of working that the artist favours when attempting ‘to lay down the energetic structure of the drawing’.2 To get at the truthful image, she lets the hand guide her, ‘bypassing that rational decision-making, pattern-recognition, problem-solving part of thinking’. The hand, not the eye. Tyson confides that she has been known to draw with her eyes closed on occasion, at least to start with, and that she barely looks at the image until it is done.

In drawing as in writing, the hand appears to have a mind of its own. Tyson acknowledges that the hand responds to signals from her brain, whether it is the brain seated in her head, her heart or her gut, elaborating:

‘When sketching or laying down – capturing, it feels like – the basics for a more involved drawing, it feels as if I must let the hand find the image and try not to interfere, until I feel I have captured the necessary information, a presence. Successful images – ones that are alive – will appear unfamiliar to me, in that I could not have thought them up, contrived them.’

Underscoring the sheer material variety that illustrates the versatility of the drawing medium is Tyson’s quest for an ‘unfinished’ quality: ‘The danger is in over finishing, once the process slows down. I try to leave the drawing at a point where the viewer gets to finish it […], by observing those energies at the point when they are just about to fall still and stop. This is the case in painting too – to keep the image alive so that it completes each time you look at it.’

The series of five enigmatic life-sized ink drawings from 2016 perfectly illustrate the point the artist alludes to in the above statement. These works – each of which features the bare outline of a female figure spanning the full picture frame, practically from head to toe – are quite literally life-sized at 182.9 x 106.7 cm. Their slightly tilted heads, turning torsos, arms either outstretched or akimbo, and above all, legs striding forth, unnaturally foregrounded and noticeably wider towards the bottom, forcefully convey a sense of movement, of barely contained energy. The limbs peter out, appear to be stunted or barely suggested, as in the twin circles that stand for hands (or is it fists?) and elsewhere for ovaries in Uteryne (2016). The title offers a possible reading of the image with its prominent central lock motif representing, on one level, the female womb. Yet the crenellated end of the contraption, which is also the hemline of a short skirt, makes this viewer think of the chastity belts which crusading knights would use to lock the ‘private parts’ of their spouses, guarding them against temptation during their prolonged absences.

In ‘Nicola Tyson in Conversation with Herself’, the artist notes, in response to a question she puts to herself regarding the word ‘frock’, that the term ‘private parts’ is something of a misnomer when it comes to female genitalia, given that ‘women’s ‘parts’ aren’t private property – they’re viewed as available to, yet are policed by, the patriarchy… indeed are its private parts.’3This may explain the emphasis given to said ‘private parts’ not only in this series of images – most notably the one titled Pencil Stub (2016), featuring an outsized vagina dentata and breasts with unusually large nipples staring at the viewer like a second pair of eyes – but also in some of the tall and rather narrow graphite drawings on view in Beyond the Trace. Untitled (2008), for instance, depicts a spindly figure whose torso, decked with gaping white breasts, takes the place of a face deliberately left out of the frame so as to generate ambiguity. The breasts and hint of a navel become surrogate facial features, not unlike in René Magritte’s highly disturbing painting Rape (1945).That said, the artist is keen to distance herself from surrealist dream (and nightmarish) imagery, as well as automatic drawing techniques associated with the likes of André Masson, which spring to mind in relation to Tyson’s own largely intuitive process of drawing. For one thing, Tyson does not wish to be labelled in any way. Also, from the 90s onwards, she has been striving to go beyond what she calls her own ‘learned male gaze’ in order to find ‘new imagery that could tell us something about ourselves (women) that we hadn’t seen represented before – the intuitive female body as experienced – lived in – not a surreal one of the art historical kind.’

Tyson’s transgressive, porous and permeable bodies, with their exposed sexual parts and prominent orifices, align her work with the grotesque sensibility. The grotesque, from the Italian word grotto, has its roots in the Renaissance rediscovery of Roman frescoes depicting hybrid creatures caught in a dense web of floral patterns. Yet the wider concept owes as much – if not more so – to Mikhail Bakhtin’s classic study Rabelais and His World (1965), and his understanding of the ‘grotesque body’, as illustrated by the family of giants and other larger-than-life characters who people the French sixteenth-century author’s subversive literary oeuvre. Tyson’s tall drawings – in particular Untitled (2009), with its outsized turbaned head that evokes a Charles Rennie Mackintosh rose pattern, and the bulbous, Bellmeresque, maimed and contorted body of Untitled (2009), ending in exquisitely drawn hoofs – partake of this sensibility.

In its contemporary and painterly guise, the genre has been dominated by male artists whose work ‘tends towards provocatively sexualised depictions of women’, as Jonathan Griffin points out in his essay on ‘The grotesque’ published in Tate Etc.4 Griffin counts Tyson among the female artists – alongside Dana Schutz, Nicole Eisenman and Tala Madani – who in recent years have turned to making grotesque images of women in a bid to claim the grotesque for themselves and counter the male hold on it. In his eyes, the feminist artists who exemplify this trend, ‘share a sensitivity to the interior experience of the female body, and the ways in which that inner space projects into the outside world’, effectively dissolving the boundaries between self and other.

This kind of sensitivity is reflected in two new works made especially for the show at Drawing Room, The Selfies (2017) and The Secret (2017). These twin horizontal graphite drawings were intended as a counterpoint to the verticality of the other works on view. The format is dictated in part by their subject matter; each represents two women, in marked contrast to other works in the exhibition which, by and large, feature solo figures. Some of these are the artist herself under different guises – most explicitly so in the colour monotypes, referred to as ‘self-portraits’ rather than as ‘portrait heads’, a more neutral label that leaves the identity of the subject open.

The Selfies show two female heads side by side, as if tied together by their hair, respectively shorter and longer, which forms a flowing boundary between the artist’s fictional self and her other half. ‘I wanted to return to exploring characters in relationship to one another,’ Tyson says of these two drawings. Whether lovers or merely friends, their closeness suggests an intimacy, just as the two faces, seen in profile – one leaning in towards the other, as she gazes into the distance – subtly convey the exchange of confidences in The Secret. The ‘selfie’ is to a ‘self-portrait’ what a ‘snog’ is to a ‘kiss’: a refreshingly pop way of deflating loaded art historical subjects (Snog, in the 2015 ‘daily drawings’ series, is a case in point). On top of that, the two female ‘sitters’ in The Selfies are crying – one has ray-like tears streaming down her cheeks and the other dark puddles beneath her eyes beside other tell-tale signs of disarray. In her Anti-Selfie series of photographic self-portraits, the Dutch artist Melanie Bonajo systematically records all the occasions on which she has cried. Tyson’s The Selfies also wilfully subvert selfie norms and the expectation that women always have to smile, look pretty and appear available. Tyson pokes fun at this in ‘Dear Man on the Street’, the first of her mock-epistles published together as Dead Men Letters. In this one instance, she takes on not a famous male artist but rather the obnoxious passer-by who tells her to ‘smile’, prompting her to do so when she least feels like it.

In her monotypes Tyson uses colour to further sabotage such ‘mandated behavior’. Despite the bright red lips and playful polka-dot patterned orange frocks in Self-Portrait: Coy (2016) and Self-Portrait: Worried (2016), these figures are hardly alluring in the traditional sense.  There is nothing remotely sexy about the featureless faces, by turns gaunt and bloated, framed by ever receding brown hairlines and clothing items whose random shades and patterns (‘green shirt’, ‘black turtle neck’, ‘dots’, etc.) spell out different modes of fatigue in the acrylic works sharing the title Self-Portrait: Tired (all 2016). At the close of her interview with herself, Tyson describes these monotypes as a species of printing, since the acrylic paint is first applied to glass and then printed onto paper in reverse. Yet they also represent another way to draw, as the marks we see are the result of strokes made on the back of the paper. This ‘back-to-front way of working’, as her interviewer calls it, has the advantage of allowing her to ‘drop directly into color’ and move beyond the confines of the graphic line.

1Nicola Tyson, in an email exchange between the author and the artist, 6 September 2017. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from this interview.

2 Jenny Bahn, ‘The Shape of Things’, interview, Office magazine, 2017

3Nicola Tyson, Works on Paper catalogue (New York: Petzel Gallery, 2016), p. 78

4Tate Etc.,Issue 26, autumn 2012