Daniel Benjamin Gallery is pleased to announce Come Undone, the first solo exhibition by Ellie MacGarry. Through her paintings and ceramics, she foregrounds fleeting and intimate moments involving the body and its everyday transformations.
‘In public we feel watched. So we carefully, or carelessly, consider our appearance, choosing clothes, accessories and hairstyles which best suit our mood and our vocation for the day. We use these items both to conceal the parts of our bodies we most want to hide and to highlight our assets, hoping that somehow this combination of cloth and leather will personify our character. We can use this powerful tool of dressing up to slip between different settings and different versions of ourselves – choosing which mask to put on.
In private we do as we must and as we please, carrying out dull everyday acts like clipping our nails and combing our hair, and indulging in guilty lonesome pleasures like eating in bed or giving in to our bodily desires and lusts. But there is an ever-growing sense that even in these private moments we are being watched or seen, as urban populations grow in number and we increasingly share so many of our experiences, whether banal or extraordinary, with friends and strangers. We can all become performers now, if we like.’
MacGarry’s work considers the self-conscious body; the inside and out, the clothing and unclothing, the desperate desire to be seen and the even more desperate desire to be hidden. From the sexy theatre of assertive undressing to the humour and embarrassment of failing coverings, the intimacy of the everyday is put at centre-stage.There is a focus on the ever-changing parts of us; our clothes, which we keenly renew for the sake of reinvention or desire, and our hair and nails which endlessly shed and renew themselves. Often at a point of transition – half-unbuttoned, mid-haircut with the snipped hairs clumping on the shoulders, the bed as yet unmade or food which is yet to be eaten – there is a sense of privacy which has been broken down. Invites are issued; the viewer is urged to look in and come closer.
Each painting acts as a frame for this self-conscious body, or for the spaces that it might inhabit; forms are flattened, bodies are stretched out and illusion is mocked. Beside them, ceramic sculptures pretend to be used tools – clogged up and haggard, like those found in the back of a bathroom cupboard, usually hidden from the eyes of others: objects which are not so commonly shared. Pushed and moulded in their soft state, they are paused at a particular moment in time when hardened in the kiln. There is a sense that these objects and bodies are not yet ready to receive guests, that they urgently utter, “wait a minute, I’m not decent” through a closed bedroom door.
While many of the works result from lived or imagined experience, like the feeling of a tender sunburnt chest or the slovenly act of eating sloppy spaghetti in bed, some of the newest works reference historical figures or paintings. These include Titian’s Penitent Magdalene cloaked in endless swathes of her own hair, Agnès Sorel’s famously bared breast, and Christian Schad’s self-portrait. Zoomed-in and cropped, we are not given the full picture but instead are provided only with MacGarry’s specific area of interest – the small carpet of chest hair showing through a transparent garment, the dress unfurling or a stray wispy hair grazing a rosy nipple.
Sometimes painting on textured, patterned fabric rather than canvas, MacGarry wants to draw attention to the materials of the painting in order to remind the viewer that they should not be fooled by illusions – what they are looking at is not really skin, hair or clothing, it is paint on a surface, colours next to and on top of one another. Similarly she plays with scale, in order to make the ‘real’ more abstract or to amplify a moment which could be ordinary or commonplace and turn it into something which teeters between sublime and absurd. This allows space for vulnerable or embarrassing moments to unfold, transforming that which is often over-looked into something which simultaneously compels and repels.