May 28–August 31, 2014
The work of Norwegian artist Vanessa Baird confronts the viewer with an expressive and surreal visual world. At the first glance, the eye is drawn to the seductive and lively hues in her watercolours, but as we delve deeper, burlesque motifs are revealed, full of absurd condensations of elements with a dark and humorous undertone.
Vanessa Baird is a well-established artist in Norway, and her work has been both nationally and internationally acclaimed during recent years. The exhibition includes a series of large-format watercolours and a number of new works, painted specially for the exhibition.
Baird’s sources of inspiration are a rich palette of references to art history and literature. She makes use of a pre-existing archive of images but reveals stereotypes by reworking and pushing the motifs over the limit where they become transformed into something else entirely. A critical discussion of norms regarding sexuality and gender is a recurring theme. Several of her works can be understood as feminist critiques of the male gaze that has shaped the renditions of women in art history and displayed an idealized female body with an emphasis on feminine and maternal traits.
With her own life as a starting point, Vanessa Baird has portrayed romantic relationships and motherhood beyond clichés and sentimentality. Several of the female characters in her works seem to bear the artist’s own features. Thus, Baird suggests a possible autobiographical interpretation, but at the same time, the roles she assumes in different situations are more or less absurd.
Vanessa Baird chiefly works with drawing, pastel and watercolour. She often uses larger formats and different motifs and scenes are linked together like thought maps in narrative tableaux. Her coats of colour are transparent, painted layer over layer or accentuated by leaving patches of white paper. With intricate patterns and vibrating brushwork she creates psychological scenes that restrict the motifs in a claustrophobic fashion and displace the perspective. The contrast between the classical elegance of the watercolour technique and her at times provocative imagery captures something of the essence of Vanessa Bairds oeuvre – it challenges and disturbs us.
Caption: Vanessa Baird, No title (avkuttete finger) (partly shown), 2010, National Museum, Oslo © Vanessa Baird/BUS 2106
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