Hope all is well and that you’re finding a way to incorporate art and happiness into your life during these dreary winter months. It is a constant 42 degrees here in Amsterdam. That’s a billion times better than the polar vortex of New York City, but it’s still rather chilly for gallery-hopping. I’ve been making the most of it, though, and am very excited about the cool spots I’ve discovered!
Today I want to tell you about the Bright Side Gallery, a really cool space in Prinsengracht. The Bright Side Gallery prides itself on promoting the careers of upcoming artists, and allowing them to explore their unique perspectives on the world. As a result, the group show that I attended, “Welcome to the Bright Side,” was an interesting combination of photography, paintings, and sculptures. Each artist contributed what they were working on without subscribing to a particular overarching theme. And yet, the exhibit was very cohesive because the works felt fresh and innovative. The artists weren’t restrained by the limitations of a theme or title. Instead, they created works that expressed their thoughts and emotions. The honesty of each work is what makes “Welcome to the Bright Side” feel so cohesive.
The first work that caught my eye was “Untitled.” It was photographed by the artist duo Synchrodogs as part of a project called “Animalism, Naturalism.” Synchrodogs is the name coined by individual photographers Tania Shcheglova and Roman Noven, who create art under the joint name. You may recognize their interesting photographic style from their recent commerical work with Mango, Swarovski, and Esquire Magazine.
On Synchrodogs’s website, the following is written: “The project ‘Animalism, Naturalism’ is an attempt to keep in mind all basic instincts that come about, reaching for the raw sense of self and intimate relation to the surrounding environment and nature.”
“Untitled” explores the theme of instinctuality by juxtaposing the natural with the unnatural, and the personal with the public, illustrating how human nature interacts with these dichotomies. The nude woman reclined on a rocky landscape is both in-touch with her surroundings and out of place in them, depending how you interpret the landscape. At first glance, one sees a woman immersed in her own pleasure- her arched back, coquettishly bent knee and arms stretched high above her head illustrate this sensual fact. The earth seems to be a part of this pleasure. It juts upward right at the curve of her back, propelling it upwards into an arch. Her feet skate along the rough ground; this action alone draws her knee upward in a build-up of tension. And yet, when one takes a step back he realizes that her landscape is surreal. The pitch-black sky gives this photograph the appearance that it has been shot in space. The rocky earth then becomes recognizable as a craterous moon. Suddenly she no longer appears at home in her landscape. She begins to resemble a paper doll cut-out, trimmed along the edges and pasted on a a picture of the moon. We, as viewers, are forced to question what her relationship is with her landscape. Is it natural to her, feeding her sexual energy in an intimate relationship, or is it alien? Has she been placed there for the viewer to gaze at? If the latter is true, then the scene is a public one, and does not depict a personal exploration of intimacy.
Which leads me to the second dichotomy: private vs. public. The figure is in the midst of exploring her body, an inherently private act. And yet it has been broadcasted for the public to see. Does this compromise the intimacy of her actions, or is the public a factor in her pleasure? Does she enjoy us watching her, or is it merely coincidence that we happen upon her in her reverie? Are we invading her space, taking advantage of her state of nakedness? These are the questions that “Untitled” presents and forces the viewer to grapple with. Looking at “Untitled” is an experience of oscillating between comfort and discomfort, as we question what constitutes nature, and how we define public vs. private space.
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Another artist at Bright Side Gallery whose art I particularly enjoy is Martine Johanna. Her two works,”After Hours” and”Solanum,” are aesthetic masterpieces.
Here is the first, an acrylic painting on wood completed in 2016.
“After Hours” is a sensory delight. The figure’s skin is a dewy, cool purple tinged with hints of fiery orange and glimpses of white. Specks of confetti cover the surface of the painting, leading the viewer to feel as if confetti is raining from the sky. The figure’s blue eyes are coated in a thin layer of gloss. She looks just to the left of us, as if she is staring at some invisible wall, the way one does when one is day-dreaming. Her essence feels mystical because of the unnatural hue of the portrait. There is something magical about her purple skin, the unexplained confetti, and the incompleteness of her form. If you look closely, you can see that the brushstrokes constructing her are very apparent. Patches of color and cross-hatched lines visibly compose her figure, while also highlighting the fact that she is a product of paint.
It is impossible to ignore the figure behind her, shielding his or her face in a shadowed hand. The entire face is covered in darkness, light seeming to illuminate the secondary figure’s nails and fingers, but not his or her identity. Is this meant to be the soul of the primary figure, some kind of physical depiction of her inner emotions? Or is this a character who interacts with the primary figure? My first impression is the former because the two share the same hair color. Furthermore, the secondary figure is too dark to exist in physical space besides the brightly illuminated figure. One can make all kinds of conjectures about why this young woman is brooding- why a physical form has been given to her inner demons. It is all part of the mystical fairytale that Johanna has created.
I was also quite fond of this second work by Johanna, entitled “Solanum.”
I apologize for the horrendous flash situation in this photograph. I decided including a poor-quality picture was better than not including a picture of this painting at all. It is too beautiful to skip over, and you can look at a less janky picture of it here.
“Solanum” was painted a year earlier, in 2015, on linen rather than wood. It features a similarly beautiful brunette, this time in profile, her hand lifted upwards, palm out. The painting is slit down the middle with a clean vertical line. On the viewer’s left, the colors that make up the figure’s body are somewhat realistic. Blue, pink and red are mixed into beige to create her coloring. Her hand is distinctly more unnatural than her chest and face. The fingertips are red, as if they have been dipped in red ink, or a vat of raspberries. (Given that “Solanum” is the name of a tropical shrub, this is not impossible!) Her hand is also more distinctly lined than her upper body, which looks smooth and soft. Her hair tousles naturally around her face, as if a light breeze is passing by.
To the right of the vertical line, the image looks quite different. The figure’s skin is bright blue with a large patch of orange painted on her forearm. Her hair blows backward horizontally. The coloring on this side of the painting reminds me of cameras that read body temperature. There was a popular photo booth filter for this effect back in the day, if you recall. The hotter an area got, the redder the camera depicted that section. Anyway, this knowledge adds a layer of interest to the already intriguing work. While it is impossible to make rhyme or reason of such a fantasy scene, it is still great fun to imagine what Johanna intended each half of this portrait to represent, and how she felt the two tied together. Perhaps the allusion to heat-sensitive cameras reveals a characteristic of this mythic creature- her skin color changes based on heat. Or maybe, the entire effect is purely aesthetic. If that were the case, I would not be disappointed. Simply staring at “Solanum” is enough to excite the senses. It is an escape into a world of magic. Doesn’t looking at this painting make you wish as if you were an ethereal being as well, drifting through a Pink Floyd light show in outer space?
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Lastly, I would like to talk about Jen Mann’s “Wallflower,” (2014). I spent a lot of time staring at this beautiful work, and noting how it made me feel the longer I stood in front of it and pondered its title, its content, and its grand size.
Mann has been quoted saying, “In my newest series of works I challenge limitations to acceptable beauty. Limitations are death to creativity.” And yet, when I look at “Wallflower,” I do not see a non-conventional form of beauty. In fact, very little of this figure’s face and body are portrayed. It is a painting of hands, arm, neck and hair. How can one gauge beauty based on those elements?
Ah, therein lies the point of Mann’s wittily titled, cleverly described, and expertly depicted painting. There ought to not be a series of body parts, properly proportioned, colored, and toned, to constitute beauty. A person who simply exists, in all his/her/their wonderful parts, should be considered beautiful. Mann takes the extremities of a person not typically objectified by the media, like the shoulders, hands, and forehead of (what we assume is) a woman, and paints them beautiful.ly She covers the body in lovely shades of pink, swirling the shapes of flowers over the figure’s skin.
And yet, the figure shies away from our gaze. At the risk of sounding a bit preach-y, I propose that the figure shies away because, like most people, she does not realize just how beautiful she is. She is a ‘wallflower,’ as the title suggests, content to linger in the background, on the verge of being who she wants to be. “Wallflower” feels overwhelmingly positive to me. Its colors, shapes, pun-ny title and lovely message brightened my day (pun intended). It also feels like a call-to-arms- not an aggressive announcement, but a powerful painting that reminds us all that we are too beautiful to simply be wallflowers.
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All in all, I really enjoyed the Bright Side Gallery, and I am excited to go back. I’ve found galleries in Amsterdam to be really exciting places, filled with innovative art presented in new and interesting ways. I cannot wait to eat more stroopwafels and see what other art this incredible city has to offer! I’m off to the Rijksmuseum tomorrow…
xoxo, Chloe <3