Figuratively speaking

Education | Crystal Wu 26 Feb 2021

Figurative art refers to artwork with a real source object and its representation, among which the human form is one of the common subjects.

"I chose a group of artists that make figurative work in different ways and a grouping of artists that felt fresh together," said curator Todd James.

James himself is an artist as well and is displaying alongside 10 other artists in the show Go Figure, which will be available at Over the Influence until March 13.

Walking up the steps of Ladder Street to the Man Mo Temple, one might miss the gallery entrance, which is tucked away on the side of the stairs.

But as you enter the ground floor, you will see recurring images of women - both nude and fully clad - in the exhibition, spanning across different artworks.

"In putting the show together I was interested in tropes of art history," James said. "There's a long history of female nudes as the main subject of figurative painting."

That is also present in his paintings on display in the exhibition. The first work that welcomes the eyes upon entrance is James' Girls Club, which shows five women lounging and relaxing against an indigo background.

The bold colors of the female figures are a nod to the artist's roots in graffiti, where often strong colors would be used.

In one of the innermost rooms of the space lay four small paintings also by James, which illustrate four different women enjoying their own lives.

For example, the magenta and pink Perfect Companions depict a woman in her underwear, enjoying the company of her two cats in front of her plants. Next to it, Staying Stable depicts a woman in sunglasses sitting on the floor of her apartment, enjoying a piece of fruit, with warm autumnal tones.

These paintings may have vivid color palettes, but they convey a sense of warmth and intimacy, as if the artist has invited us to take a glimpse of the women's private boudoirs.

"I've been painting nudes for a long time," said James.

"The compositions and colors come from drawings and sketches I do."

A mother-and-son pair are also exhibiting. March Avery's family was an artistic one - both her parents were artists. As a result, she started creating art when she was two. As seen in her works Resting Redhead and Resting On the Grass, her art is simple in form and domestic, terms which are also sometimes used to describe artworks of her father, American painter Milton Avery.

While the mother-son duo's showcased works are all figurative, their style differs, representing the variety in human figure paintings.

Son Sean Cavanaugh's Tiki Dreams #1, 2, 3 was monochromatic in brown, and showed more details of his subjects on their coastal adventure.

Another type of figurative art is still life, which was popularized during the Dutch Golden Age.

Jesse Edwards's Memento Mori with Bong and Sucker very much evokes the style of its Dutch predecessors with its depiction of daily life objects placed on a tabletop, but with modern-day objects such as a lollipop and a bong.

The yellow glass skull is a modernized memento mori, or a reminder of our mortality, but combined with the blue-and-white porcelain bong, it brings to mind the motifs of vanitas skulls and Delft blue pottery in Dutch still life.

Figurative art is a large category and can date back to antiquity, but James said: "Figurative art is always evolving. I'm not here to predict, just here to show what's going on."

"One thing is for sure, figurative isn't going anywhere."

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April 2021

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