Dublin-born artist Genieve Figgis explores images from art history through a modern lens of figurative abstraction and her own Irish identity and dark humour. Particularly referencing and reinventing the idyllic, romantic, and lavish scenes in the art of aristocratic culture—especially that of the French pre-revolutionary Rococo period—her paintings are rich in colour and thickly textured with painterly forms that, while recognisable, appear dreamlike and macabre. She was discovered by American artist Richard Prince after she began uploading her work to Twitter in 2014, and credits this initial attention with being quickly propelled into the international art world. She lives and works out of County Wicklow in the idyllic Irish countryside.Read More
From the outset, Figgis' inspiration has been the bourgeois subjects of Old Masters such as Velázquez, Goya, Fragonard, and Boucher, and later artists such as Ensor and Manet, as well as the literature of Edgar Allen Poe and Oscar Wilde. As implied by the title of her exhibition Floating World at Almine Rech Shanghai (2019)—a reference to the urban pleasure-seeking culture of Japan's Edo period (1603–1867)—she plays with idealised upper-class cultures of luxury seen in these art historical and literary specimens, introducing her own sense of playfulness and dark humour.
Figgis unclothes the bourgeois leisure, lavish homes, parties, and indulgent romanticism seen in the paintings she references. Works such as Yes Captain (2014) peel back the idealisation of Romantics like Jane Austen, replacing it with unceremonious down-to-earth profanity. Sinister distorted figures suggest the darkness, decay, carnality, and imperfection underlying these impressions of luxury.
Figgis' process involves dribbling paint directly onto the canvas and relying heavily on fluid interactions—the bleeding of colours and pull of gravity—gently manipulated with surface marks to draw out particular textures and details. Faces and even full figures in the artist's paintings melt into disfigured grotesques that transform these landscapes, portraits, and interior scenes of idealised luxury into horror. Figures such as the pink sitters receding into the bright pink of the Victorian furniture in Pink Couch (2015) melt into undulating backgrounds to further enhance the nightmarish atmosphere. This violence and distortion undercuts the gentle and playful Rococo ambience engendered by the bright colours and original subject-matter.
Figgis graduated with a BA Fine Art from the Gorey School of Art, Wexford, in 2006, later attending the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, where she completed her BA Honours in 2007 and MFA in 2012. Since then her works have been shown in several solo and group exhibitions across Ireland, Britain, Europe, Canada, the United States, and Asia. Her work has featured in international art fairs in Europe and the United States, including Art Brussels in 2017. She has also twice produced art in conjunction with The Metropolitan Opera, including a Gallery Met Short video work referencing Donizetti's Roberto Devereux opera in 2016.
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2019