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Isolated and Elongated on Green
Oil and acrylic on canvas
Dimensions: 183 x 274 cm
Isolated and Elongated on Green belongs to a body of pictorial work that Sue Williams began to produce in the mid-nineties, mixing the harshest, sourest representations of her earlier work with the stylisation of the figures represented, which show a greater desire for formal elegance. A new, more silent landscape appears in her canvases; the figures are distributed flatly in the space, almost like outlines, or—as the critic Peter Schjeldahl has written—“endless residues of drawings”. Throughout this picture, with its greenish-yellow background, Williams places essentially female human figures, drawn like sketches of distorted bodies, in impossible postures, twisted in caricatural fashion, with their limbs dislocated or out of proportion. Williams’ bodies seem to break in order to show how stupid and vulnerable their appendages are when they are shown independent of the body as a whole. She makes up a scene in which sexuality is portrayed sourly, expressionistically, phantasmagorically, with undertones that are lustful and tragic and humiliating, but still denote a viewpoint that springs from art history itself. Adrian Dannat has pointed out that “Williams’ early work used and abused painting for a purpose: to subvert traditional patriarchal forms. They were works about something. However, her new works seem to be about painting itself”. Williams’ work also seems to be a rereading of the work of satirical caricaturists such as Daumier or Hogarth; it takes up their interest in marrying sophistication and vice, criticism and visual pleasure, noise and silence. In her more recent works, the transformation of the figures, which gradually lose depth and texture, through calligraphic forms—almost grotesque dancers—can be interpreted as the result of her desire to delve into concepts—such as inscrutability or the void—that go beyond supposedly scatological content. Williams has said that in her new paintings she is struggling to “distance her work from the literal”, though her aesthetic territory is still defined by sexual tension and the domestic horror to which women are habitually subjected.
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