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What Are You Looking At?
Allyson Clay and Eliza Griffiths, Encounters with the Gaze

Eliza Griffiths, Arcadia
Eliza Griffiths, Arcadia

Eliza Griffiths, Arcadia 1999.
In both her contribution to the group show Posers1 at St. Mary’s University Art Gallery (2002) and her solo exhibition Psycho-dramas in Painting at the Anna Leonowens Gallery (2002), Griffiths’ work comments on female sexual identity from within the tradition of painting and popular culture. In Arcadia (1999), the female character stares at the viewer, hand on hip, clutching a bottle of beer. She is naked from the waist up, one breast is exposed while the other is shielded by the beer-wielding arm. She has a scar on her stomach, underarm hair and a tattoo. A male figure, slightly behind and to the left of the woman, looks at her while caressing her braided hair with one hand. He is wearing yellow eyeshadow and his face seems bruised or blemished, traces of lipstick (or blood) mark his upper lip. Like the female character, his chest is exposed revealing hair around his nipples, escaping from under his arms, and creeping up from below his navel. By including pubic and underarm hair and imperfections in the skin, Griffiths’ evokes the abject, that which is generally unseen and unacceptable. Griffiths’ paintings feature this tattooed, bare-chested (or clothed in filmy transparent fabrics) protagonist on her own or in conjunction with cosmeticized males who appear to have been somewhat abused. These ‘feminized’ males and ‘masculinized’ females serve to question gender constructs and the representation of female desire.

Through her treatment of paint Griffiths divulges the fiction of her constructions—not only of the female figure, but also of ‘woman’ as object of desire, and of the gendered boundaries of desire. There is a push and pull between highly rendered areas and loosely interpreted sections, between opaque and transparent, revealing the artifice of the seemingly airbrushed figures (note2). This tension on the surface of the canvas echoes the subtle psychological tensions between the characters, and between the viewer and the painting. There is an ongoing struggle between the bubble gum palette and softly rendered characters and the bold, sexual, psychological dramas. Griffiths’ technical approach enhances this dialectic between projected desires and experienced or lived desires.

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1. M. Reichertz, Posers: The Work of Greg Denton, Eliza Griffiths, Anne-Marie Kornachuk, Tony Scherman, Marion Wagschal and Janet Werner (Halifax: Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery, 2002).

2. R.M. Vaughn, “Spotlight: Eliza Griffiths,” Canadian Art (Spring 2002), <www.canadianart.ca/articles/Articles_Details.cfm?Ref_num=27> Last verified: 15 October 2005.

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