It may not be wise to insult the offspring of others but Claudette Schreuders’s children are amongst the ugliest that I have ever seen. Working in jetulong, oil and enamel Schreuders forges figures with thick, creamy complexions, stocky limbs and blunt features. These sturdy people are too bulky and intimidating for juvenile gaiety and their severe, vacant stares render them remote and sinister.
A particularly disarming piece is ‘Great Expectations’ which takes its name from the title of the exhibition. The young girl should be lying on her back, daydreaming about a prosperous future but her unchanging hue, blank gaze and horizontal posture are also reminiscent of death. The way in which this figure is stretched out upon a white table contributes to its corpse-like aspect and brings to mind the scene of an open-casket funeral. The fact that Schreuders does not attempt to seize her subject in motion, only underscores the lifelessness of the sculpture.
Schreuders’s subtle ability to capture the dystopia and decay that are a latent condition of new life parallels Charles Dickens’s willingness to depict the frustrated ambitions of youth. On the other hand, Schreuders goes further than the famous author in terms of presenting more cynical and complex portrayals of female subjectivity. To this extent, her work is significant and pioneering in its capacity to build upon long-standing traditions.
Great Expectations is only one of a triumvirate of exhibitions currently running at the Michael Stevenson Gallery in Woodstock. Whilst Schreuders’s special expertise is sculpture, Andrew Putter and Ian Grose work with photography and painting respectively. Despite the fact that these exhibitions span diverse media, the decision to display them concomitantly is astute given that all three artists endeavour to resuscitate old and clichéd subject matter.
While Schreuders adroitly inverts the mores of youth and Putter fearlessly attempts to remould the tricky territory of colonial anthropology, Grose deconstructs conservative painterly tableaus such as two lovers embracing, domestic interiors and scenes from nature in an arrestingly beautiful way. Titles such as ‘Dissimulation (Roses)’ alert one to the fact that, beneath a kaleidoscopic wash of white and black patterning, one should discern the existence of flowers. Yet, at the same time, the temptation to envision stars, leaves or frost in these pale and swirling shapes, never quite evaporates.
Similar images do not directly disclose the subject they conceal which grants one freedom of interpretation but also poses a challenge to the mind’s eye. Indeed, the ostensibly haphazard blotches and colours in ‘Dissimulation (Pink with Spots)’ are interchangeably the outlines of birds or the legs and heads of human beings.
Grose’s tendency to zoom in on commonplace scenes often explains the blurred nature of his remarkable visions and suggests an element of realism or natural perspective behind his wistful images. In addition to this, he often arranges flora and fauna in shapes that are strikingly akin to those found on tapestry. As a result one cannot know whether one is encountering feral nature, or simply an artificial pattern on a Persian rug or exotic carpet.
Grose is a demanding artist in that one is constantly called upon to reconceive the object of perception. It is for this reason that New Pictures is the stand-out exhibition at the Michael Stevenson at the moment. The multivalence of Grose’s painting sums up the tactics of defamiliarisation that permeate the offerings of the other two artists. It is also indicative of the huge promise in this young career.
Claudette Schreuders’s Great Expectations, Andrew Putter’s Native Work and Ian Grose’s New Pictures are running at the Michael Stevenson Gallery, Woodstock until 6 April