'It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure'
—Marquis de Sade
Maddox Gallery Los Angeles is pleased to present The Agony and the Ecstasy, a group exhibition exploring the human figure as site of emotional transformation. Featuring a selection of paintings and sculpture by six artists hailing from different regions of the world—Tijana Titin, Darian Mederos, Melissa Herrington, Justin Bower, Samantha Greenfeld and Susanne Zagorni—the show considers how the body surrenders itself to extreme emotions, be they agonising pain or sublime pleasure.
The exhibition title is drawn from the biographical novel of the same name depicting the life and career of Michelangelo Buonarroti. Written in 1961 by the American author Irving Stone, the story chronicles the struggles and triumphs throughout this venerable artist's career. Michelangelo believed that his role as a sculptor was to free the form and its spirit from blocks of marble. His deft chiselling of the material gave way to transcendent sculptures that appeared to pulsate and writhe with sheer emotion. Finding such connections between body and soul continue with the works presented here by each of these artists. Their boldly rendered figures inhabit various forms of expression ranging from intense agony to divine exultance and in some instances, it is difficult to decipher one from the other.
This indistinguishable difference is better understood when considering that the word 'agony' is originally derived from the Greek verb 'agein' meaning 'to celebrate.' Used in the context of celebrating sporting competitions, its noun form 'agonia' evolved to describe 'a struggle for victory or prize.' The 14th century European authors then developed the more familiar definition of 'pain or anguish,' but in the 18th century, 'agony' was used to describe 'a strong and often uncontrollable display of delight,' thereby, circling the meaning back to its linguistic origin.
The artists here also blur these tenuous lines of distinction between agony and ecstasy in their artworks. Various states of emotions are portrayed by their unique handling of colour, line and composition and, by placing the primacy of the figurative body on display, they reveal the intangible magnitude of the human condition.
Berlin based artist, Tijana Titin, seeks to capture the interior worlds of her viewers. Describing her paintings as 'a visualisation of the invisible,' Titin floods her canvases with swirling ethereal figures intertwined in moments of seeming celebration. Her sensuous palette and lively brushwork are reminiscent of early 18th century French Rococo paintings, however, Titin's graceful handling of paint creates abstract compositions that contain an air of ambiguity—are the figures frolicking in great exultation or battling in great distress? Such unknowns offer a myriad of expressions to be explored and considered with each work.
The reclining figures of Cuban born Darian Mederos, on the other hand, are in obvious states of rapture, anguish and repose. In their moments of rest and unrest, the contorted figures are suspended behind a gauzy filter that keeps the image preserved and protected. A layer of bubble wrap is skilfully composed of large, broad, abstract strokes that reveal both the figures and reflected light when viewed as a whole. These canvases are part of Mederos' 'Obscura Series' and invite multiple ways of seeing—first at a distance, then up close and again at a further distance—in order to take in the intricacies of their compelling compositions.
Melissa Herrington is a Los Angeles based artist who explores what she calls 'the complexities of transformation' through her large abstract canvases. She uses the motif of the female figure as site of this change, with the assured line of the silhouette creating a spectre that simultaneously dissolves and materialises amongst the diaphanous layers of organic colours and shapes. As though it is caught between two extreme worlds, the pared down, deconstructed body is drawn to scale inviting the viewer to step in and take part in this transformation. Herrington's intuitive gestural marks and sparse areas of canvas also evoke a sense of calm amidst the storm, a nervous swirl of emotions placated by the evocation of the female presence.
A more fervent emotional and bodily transformation occurs within the paintings of Californian born and raised artist Justin Bower. His large-scaled works depict restless figures hovering in an imaginary world where Neoclassicism meets Sci-Fi. Bower's figures are what he calls 'post-human,' beings that are in states of delirium as they transfigure from sentient humans to virtual simulations. He paints the physical body in flux, as it sheds its corporeal skin exposing bone and muscle ready to be replaced with millions of pixels. He also captures the psychological states in flux with his rigorous handling of the brush. By laying down a flurry of rhythmic, intense strokes, they convey the oscillation between pain and pleasure that his post-human figures may perpetually endure.
Los Angeles native Samantha Greenfeld's sculpture, on the other hand, is informed by classical Greek statues from the Hellenistic period. Often embodying a divine being, these naturalistic works of art depicted the ideal form full of emotion and movement. Greenfeld's piece recalls the Venus de Milo with its contrapposto pose and layers of fabric draped around the body. Upon closer inspection, however, rather than the polished surface of marble, the figure's surface is composed of a pastiche of worn garments and discarded materials. Greenfeld is fascinated by the debris and castoffs left behind by others and seeks emotional connections between those who may have owned the objects and those who come upon them with feelings of recognition or nostalgia. By salvaging remnants of old and manipulating them into something new, she holds onto the memories and intimate histories of the very human bodies they once adorned.
The abstracted figures in German artist Susanne Zagorni's paintings almost vibrate off their canvases with their vivid colours and energetic, gestural strokes. She aims to capture the whole of human experiences, from the most blissful of moments to the darkest of days. Highly expressive and raw in their execution, these canvases unleash a multitude of emotional and psychological sensations embodied by distorted figures and limbs that overlap, conjoin and sometimes, extend out from nowhere, almost like a Surrealist dream springing forth from the subconscious.
Throughout The Agony and the Ecstasy, an emotional journey develops with each encounter of an artwork. As Michelangelo sought to release the soul from his chosen medium, so too do the artists presented here. Through their various styles and approaches, they not only tap into the infinite well of emotions harboured in the human body, but also reconsider the notions of agony and ecstasy. Are they opposing emotions, or are they the same, for pain is perhaps just a cruel form of pleasure.
Press release courtesy Maddox Gallery.