Solo show of works by Lisa Brice opens at GEM, museum of contemporary art

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Solo show of works by Lisa Brice opens at GEM, museum of contemporary art
Lisa Brice, Untitled, 2019, ink, synthetic tempera, pastel, charcoal and oil on linen, 185.6 x 317 x 4.3cm. Copyright Lisa Brice. Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Private Collection. Photo: Todd-White Art Photography.

THE HAGUE.- Two years ago she had a major show at Tate Britain. This autumn GEM presents her first museum exhibition in the Netherlands. Lisa Brice (b. 1968, Cape Town), who divides her time between London and Trinidad, paints and draws women, often naked and absorbed in everyday activities – lingering in front of the mirror, perhaps, or casually smoking a cigarette. Depicting them with sketchy faces and striking blue skin, Brice deliberately obfuscates their identity.

The tension between revealing and concealing is a common thread running through the show in The Hague. The women’s poses in the paintings often refer to compositions by famous artists like Manet, Degas and Picasso, though Brice is rarely explicit in this. She lifts figures from their original context, offering new perspectives on the art historical tradition of the female nude. No longer submitting to the male gaze, these women are doing their own thing. As Brice herself says, “This transposition rescues previously isolated figures of women from the lonely confines of a renowned art historical painting and gives them a new existence”.

Disguise as liberation
Brice also uses painterly techniques to achieve this. Her paintings, drawing and sketches are vivid and powerful thanks to the combination of loose brushwork and an almost analytical detachment. Specific shades of blue regularly recur. Brice’s fascination with this colour began with an attempt to capture the blue light of neon advertising, which led to experiments in which she sought to render the transition from day to night (the ‘blue hour’) in paint. The colour has now assumed many more meanings for Brice, including an association with the Trinidadian ‘Blue Devil’. The disguise of this local character, who announces the start of carnival at dawn, originally consisted of a layer of blue powder that was used in the laundry to make whites whiter. In the days when Trinidad and Tobago was colonised by Britain, this bleaching agent was available everywhere, and it was also associated with bleaching skin. In a broader sense, the colour symbolises for Brice the liberating effect of wearing a mask or disguise. When you are covered by another ‘skin’, prejudices based on appearance become redundant.

Female pioneers
Given Brice’s interest in the way female artists represent themselves, the self-portrait became an important theme in the exhibition. A new painting is devoted to Dutch artist Charley Toorop (1891-1955). Brice became intrigued by Toorop’s Self-portrait with Palette (1932-1933), in Kunstmuseum Den Haag’s collection, and she set about researching her life and work. She based her likeness of Toorop on a well-known photograph of Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929). She too, in her own unique way, managed to consolidate her position in an art world dominated by men. Other female artists also feature in Brice’s paintings. Photographs of American artists Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011), Elaine de Kooning (1918-1989) and Lee Krasner (1908-1984) formed the basis for a monumental new composition. Brice regards these artists as great pioneers, opening the way for the women who came after them.

Over the past few years museums have begun to focus increasingly on overlooked aspects of history. Brice’s work ties in well with this process, and also with the tradition at Kunstmuseum Den Haag, which includes GEM, of shining a spotlight on artists who have for many years received little attention. In 1935, for example, when the museum first opened, a chronological presentation of works from the collection introduced work from the twentieth century featuring only female artists. Throughout the twentieth century and until very recently, the museum has organised major exhibitions of work by artists like Suze Robertson (1942), Paula Modersohn-Becker (1952), Jacoba van Heemskerck (1982), Helene Schjerfbeck (2007) Louise Bourgeois (2010), Lee Bontecou (2017), Alice Neel (2017) and many others.

International painting
GEM museum of contemporary art has a long tradition of showcasing the work of international painters. Examples include its exhibitions of work by Hadassah Emmerich (2005), Daniel Richter (2007), Tjebbe Beekman (2008), Michael Raedecker (2009), Cecily Brown (2010), David Schnell (2010), Robert Zandvliet (2012), Mark Bradford (2015), Maaike Schoorel (2017) and Kati Heck (2020), which have allowed a wide audience in the Netherlands to discover the latest in international painting. Lisa Brice at GEM continues this tradition.

Lisa Brice
Lisa Brice studied at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town. In 1998, after a residency, she settled in London, where she still lives and works. She now also spends long periods in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, where she associates and collaborates with other artists, including Peter Doig, Chris Ofili and Embah until his death in 2015. Her work has recently been shown at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg (2015), Tate Britain in London (2018) and the Hepworth Wakefield (2020).

Please note that GEM museum of contemporary art is temporarily closed as a result of the extra coronavirus measures introduced by the government. As things now stand, the museum expects to open again on Saturday 21 November 2020.

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