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29 Dec - 1 Feb
The Yusto-Giner Gallery presents the third solo show of the artist Ángeles Agrela at the gallery, this time at its recently inaugurated space in Madrid.
The works in Ángeles Agrela: Fanzine constitute the core of a series the artist began in 2013 and represent the formal and conceptual culmination of her work to date. The subjects featured are beautiful in a way that flirts with the sublime, supernatural, magical, and at times the superhuman.
Agrela’s work is also deeply invested in traditional styles and genres of art history, particularly Renaissance and Baroque portraiture. Conjuring long-standing paradigms and outdated canons that present women as object rather than subject, the artist exposes the undeniably male-centered way women have been portrayed throughout history. Agrela states, “I believe it is still necessary that women artists bring our contemporary vision into female representation through art. I try to do so by appropriating the language of classical painting and drawing, looking for images with a studied ambiguity to which I can assign another meaning.” In reappropriating common female archetypes and symbols of femininity historically defined by men, Agrela confronts beauty standards that have functioned in service of the male gaze. While many of her figures do fall within these conventional beauty standards, Agrela is less interested in beauty for its own sake than in the enduring fascination―even obsession―that beauty begets.
Engaging the traditional genre of portraiture, Agrela’s larger-than-life paintings explore the construction of identity, gender, and beauty through the use of varying patterns and elaborate hairstyles that function as a form of disguise, mask, or camouflage. The series originated from an intensive period of research where Agrela gathered material from the internet, culled images and patterns from her ongoing archive, recycled elements of past work, and incorporated photos of models in her studio.
Occupying the liminal space between painting and drawing, the human and the animal, and the beautiful and the grotesque, the Fanzine portraits operate in the same manner as folklore or fantasy narratives. Agrela amplifies these intentional ambiguities as tools to engage beauty through the appropriation and distortion of gendered signifiers―hair, clothing, and ornamentation.
Throughout the Fanzine series, Agrela gives a central role to hair by exploiting its communicative and symbolic properties. Historically, hair has functioned in numerous capacities, as a marker of a specific time period, social status, gender, fashion, and as a way to explore the expressive boundaries of one’s own identity. Hair has also been employed (or manipulated) throughout art history to disrupt and disturb the familiar and mundane.
Agrela employs the transformative properties of hair by creating voluminous styles that border on the anthropomorphic, transfiguring her subjects into figures that are part-human/part-animal, masked superheroes, or something unidentifiable that is in the midst of a metamorphosis. According to Agrela, in colloquial Spanish a group of unconventional people who behave in an unorthodox manner are referred to as “fauna.” The diverse community of subjects in Fanzine functions as a fauna of sorts, where each display of singularity is, in fact, what connects them.
By masking her subjects, Agrela draws attention to their clothing and accoutrements, asking us to identify the women through their chosen symbols of beauty rather than those defined by society and culture. Beauty here functions conceptually, formally, and metaphorically through what the artist describes as the fascinating. “The fascinating is suspect…suspicious of hiding a deception, of wanting to catch you, like a sleight of hand,” Agrela explains, “[it has] nothing to do with the truth that pure beauty promises.” This promise of truth the artist refers to is the more traditional perception of beauty that implies purity, virtue, and perfection. She employs beauty as a tool to fascinate, capturing the viewer’s attention, and once it is held, questions and contradictions around identity, subjectivity, and femininity begin to come into play.
The notion of truth is something that emerges repeatedly throughout Agrela’s practice but is particularly salient in the Fanzine series. While each work functions as a portrait, it also complicates the very concept of portraiture by distracting, disguising, or omitting facial features.
The use and styling of hair varies throughout the Fanzine series, both as an emblem of strength and independence, as well as an instrument of restriction, silencing, blinding, or choking. Beauty here functions simultaneously as a symbol of power and of restraint. The artist’s combination of color, pattern, form, material, and gesture results in compositions that mystify, seduce, and provoke humor, elucidating the complexity of each subject. After spending time with her paintings, viewers may question whether feminine beauty is a curse, a hindrance, or a blessing, and whether the weight of external expectations about how women look implies a deeper understanding of who we are at our core, and how we choose to be perceived.
(Excerpts from the text for the monograph Ángeles Agrela, published by the Yusto-Giner Gallery, November 2021)
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