The magic of an art exhibition is that it is like a gig, only you control how long the set lasts. The artist relinquishes control once the artwork is completed, and this is where the audience gets involved: art is an offering to the viewer to be seen as long as the viewer is interested. Unlike a gig, an exhibition is usually very quiet, but Moyna Flannigan’s offerings of distemper paintings and collages seem to sing in exuberant colour and held my attention for a long time.
Flannigan, an ECA alumna and renowned artist, is known for placing women in her art ‘at the centre of a story that spans both ancient and modern worlds,’ as the leaflet for Matter at the Ingleby Gallery explains. This body of work successfully continues that pattern. Canvases varying in size from around A4 to the size of a double bed are populated by jagged yet undeniably feminine figures. These figures are splayed or tottering or dancing on washy, horizontal plains of bright, synthetic reds, pinks, and purples. Some look at their nails, others slouch to one side, others look like they’re having a good night out. The figures reminded me of Grace Jones and wear incredible shoes like Alexander Mcqueen’s famous Armadillo boots.
While much contemporary art portrays women as defiantly strong and much traditional art portrays them as idealised and nude, Flannigan’s work successfully conveys the ambiguity of feminine feelings. These figures hesitate between wanting to be both strong and vulnerable; wanting to be looked at but despising this attention. This is particularly noticeable in Quake with a character that looks like a mixture between a ballerina in a tutu and a ghost, positioned literally on a pedestal, at once playing being the centre of attention and bristling at this attention. A motif of sfumato shaded Marilyn Monroe contrasts with the sharp-edged alien ragdolls beneath her blank gaze. Pop art and Dada play off against each other here and the tone of these artworks is funny but also eerie. Arms and hands float detached by the figures they are meant to be connected to and there is a sense of apprehension that things are happening off canvas just out of sight.
In the centre of the room a voluptuous figural plaster sculpture is separated from three other delicate maquettes so as not to overwhelm them. While these figures are beautifully sculpted and add fragility to complement the bold colour of the other artworks, they don’t feel so much like Flannigan’s own style and could easily be mistaken for Giacommeti’s sculptures (an admitted influence on Flannigan). Nonetheless, they enriched my experience in the gallery and highlighted Flannigan’s skill at manipulating different media.
Why does Matter matter? Flannigan avoids the trap of being didactic but creates thought-provoking, distinct impressions from her image-craft. Matter at the Ingleby Gallery is an energetic, colourful, and confident display of in-between feelings by a painter in her prime. It runs until 18th December.
[Image: Ingleby Gallery installation view of Moyna Flannigan’s Matter]
Image Courtesy of Ingleby Gallery