A Review of France-Lise McGurn: Mondo Throb at Bosse & Baum in Peckham, London
Taken from an array of visual influences in film, art, television and music, France-Lise McGurn’s new exhibition Mondo Throb at Peckham-based gallery Bosse & Baum is an eruption of vibrant and sexually impulsive figurative paintings and drawings. Often extending beyond the confines of the canvas, McGurn creates an abundance of sensual imagery that spills out onto the walls and floor of the gallery.
The composition and form of the layered figures developed from sketches derive from a multitude of influences. Predominantly taken from visual depictions of sexuality and ecstasy, McGurn uses imagery from softcore and sexploitation film clips to divine representations of ecstasy such as Bernini’s funerary monument Blessed Ludovico Albertoni. McGurn’s multitude of visual influences is referenced in the title of the exhibition through the use of the word ‘Mondo’ that translates as ‘world’ in Italian. All visual inferences are taken from the artist’s extensive archive of collected imagery.
McGurn makes it clear that her practice of collecting is not a fetishization of the past. Alternatively, it is a non-committal form of collecting that enables her to freely explore, across a diverse range of materials and historical contexts, a broad spectrum of interests and ideas, including the representation of women in the media, juvenile delinquency and the construction of hierarchies within art.
McGurn’s rejection of a strict narrative and sentimentality attached to the image is illustrated within the body of work on display. Executed in a seemingly effortless manner, the light linear forms of the figures resist specific recognisability. The way in which the figures relate to one another doesn’t prescribe to a particular narrative and instead represents a transient moment. The sexual tension between the figures is very much present but not explicated prescribed. For example, in Puttanesca (2016) the presence of layered bodies is sensed through the depiction of disjointed limbs and faces, as if they seem to fade in a moment but reappear to interact with one another. A pair of splayed legs sit centrally within the composition, whilst another figure’s hand caresses the inner thigh. Sensual, sexual activity is portrayed, but it is unclear how many figures are present and how they are engaging with one another. A strong bodily presence is enhanced by the use of fleshy pinks that spill over the canvas and onto the walls.
McGurn’s direct application of paint onto the gallery walls and floor adds to this sense of transience. A lot of the work has been created to exist only for a specific period of time, in this particular location, soon to be erased. McGurn’s artistic practice appears to depict and respond to a specific space and moment in time. Consequently, McGurn cleverly rejects hierarchical constructs in art by rejecting the traditional support of the canvas. The title Mondo Throb alludes to this sensual bodily interaction present throughout the exhibition. The word ‘Mondo’ refers to a genre of exploitation filmmaking prominent in the 1970s that typically depict sexually explicit scenes, footage of drug use, sensational violence and death. The word ‘Throb’ insinuates a sexual pulsation and inflammation within the body.
The titles of the works themselves are also suggestive of this playful sensual activity. For example, McGurn titles one of the works Privates Benjamin (2016) in which a male figure wearing an army helmet appears to sit between the splayed legs of another male figure painted directly onto the gallery wall. Other examples include, Aerobics gives you herpes (2016), Possession (2016) and Betty Batteries (2016). McGurn’s use of comical sexual innuendoes are playful and subtle giving the impression that the artist, despite her clear skill in draftsmanship, is not taking herself too seriously. McGurn’s use of a softer colour palette softens the sexual explicitness. The forms and their relationship to one another seems purer, organic and sensual. The use of fleshy pink enhances a sense of bodily presence, skin is layered on skin as the figures merge and become one.
McGurn’s soft and simple lines that depict the contours of the bodies is reminiscent of earlier illustrative artistic practices, such as Picasso’s line drawings and Sigmar Polke’s works on paper in the early 70s. Demonstrating a clear ability in draftsmanship, McGurn’s new body of work is visually engaging. However, it is McGurn’s playful and energised attitude as she rejects contrived hierarchies and illusions of superiority in art that is refreshing and interesting to see.
Written by Alexandra Wood, a contributor to Arteviste.