What do you get when you cross one masterful filmmaker with another masterful artist? You get more art, of course! I recently chatted to the talented creative, Elizabeth Yoo, about her recent work that uses the erotic cinema of Alain Robbe-Grillet as muse. Yoo’s expressive artwork is a treat on its own but, incase you are yet to meet, let me introduce you to Robbe-Grillet in the clip below. Yoo’s interview and artwork follows.
Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about your series of paintings based on the films of Alain Robbe-Grillet. I’ve actually never seen his films, as embarrassing as it is to say, but I’ll definitely be checking them out soon.
It was the first series I’d ever done and it was also the first time I’d picked up a paintbrush in several years. But I guess I needed that long hiatus from making art in order for me to expand my frame of reference, collect my inspirations, see what my true interests really were. This series was kind of a rebirth for me. Through painting my interpretations of these scenes from the first four films Robbe-Grillet directed (L’Immortelle, Trans-Europ-Express, The Man Who Lies, Eden and After), I was coming into my own. I felt like I was finally freed from inhibitions. These paintings are not just scenes from films—I also see them as self-portraits. They communicate my own desires. Although more widely known as a writer, pioneer of the nouveau roman (“new novel”), and a screenwriter, his films deserve to have a wider audience. I’m drawn to the ambiguity of his films– the line between reality and fantasy is indistinguishable. And of course, I’m drawn to the sadomasochistic eroticism and this desire mixed with fear present in most of his films.
What about sexuality in art do you find appealing? Who are artists that you feel perfect the art of eroticism? I’ve always loved Egon Schiele and you can find newcomer Kaethe Butcher on most erotic art sites, she’s taking the world by storm.
Egon Schiele is definitely one of my favourite artists. His aggressive, expressionistic style heightens the eroticism of his paintings. The angular bodies, the bones jutting out, pale skin marked by bright spots of red or blue that look like smears, eyes looking directly at the viewer, intertwined lovers: you really feel the energy. Another favorite painter of mine is Balthus, whose style is kind of the opposite of Schiele—there’s a calmness and a stillness to the figures in his paintings. There are defined, domestic backgrounds unlike Schiele’s work which has all this negative space. Kaethe Butcher is fantastic. Her style is incredibly provocative and I love the way she incorporates text into her drawings.
You use a limited colour palate in your work, does this act as a vehicle to explore darker undertones in your subjects? Or is it purely an aesthetic/style preference?
I think I express myself better in black and white than in colour. Black is the colour of nighttime and sensuality—perfect for my subject matter. I don’t have to think as much when using only black paint and ink—I can transmit all my raw emotions onto the paper without hesitation or forethought; spontaneity is key in my work. When I use colour, I’m usually drawn to bright, primary colours– but I worry if the colours will work together. Sometimes the cheerful colours contrast with my dark themes— I like that disparity.
Eros And After: Pleasure & Pain in the Films of Alain Robbe-Grillet was your first solo exhibition. How did you find the process? Was selecting the final work for display difficult or are you a total planner? How did outcomes meet expectations?
Originally, I was going to paint scenes from several more of his films. But due to lack of time, I ended up only doing his first four films—and I like that limited focus. I’m happy with how I ended up with twenty paintings. The perfect symmetry: we hung ten paintings from the ceiling on one side and ten on the other. I tend to over-plan and since it was my first show, a lot of stress was definitely involved! But I was very happy to see that people who came to my exhibit understood the work and saw how powerful and in control of their sexuality the women in the paintings are.
Your second exhibition is underway as I write this. How does this compare with your first exhibition?
The audience is very different and the way in which my paintings were exhibited is also very different. The walls of the gallery at my second exhibition are coloured (blue, orange, and magenta) so I feel like that becomes part of the artworks and changes how they look, which is interesting. At my first exhibit at Holyrad Studio in Brooklyn, we showed one of Robbe-Grillet’s films during the reception—so the audience (mostly twenty-something year olds) got a really full experience. At my second exhibit at Home Art Gallery in Long Island– it’s a suburban area and it’s an area with people of all ages, so the reaction was a bit different. Most of the Robbe-Grillet paintings were shown, as well as other artworks of mine with thematic and stylistic similarities. Most of the people at both exhibits had never seen a Robbe-Grillet film—so it was a pleasure for me to introduce them! I was able to meet Robbe-Grillet’s widow (and a very famous dominatrix in France) Catherine Robbe-Grillet twice shortly after my show and she told me I was “converting” people into “Alain fans”—so my work was done!
How important do you think exhibiting work is as an artist, especially given the plethora of online spaces art can be showcased these days?
I think it’s extremely important because you don’t get a real sense of the size, texture, and detail in a work of art unless you see it in person. I like to stand for a long time in front of an artwork when I’m at a gallery because I try to see the artist’s process: the brushstrokes they made, how many layers of paint they used, etc. It’s a totally different experience, too, seeing an entire series or a body of work in a gallery—you’re totally in that artist’s world and there’s almost a private communion between you and the artworks. Online,you may get a more scattered, incomplete experience.
You obviously love film. Can you recommend five films and/or directors to us?
Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Trans-Europ-Express (which I screened at my first show) is very playful and sexy—about a film-within-a-film. A director (played by Alain Robbe-Grillet himself), a script supervisor (played by his wife Catherine), and a producer, riding the Trans-Europ-Express from Paris to Antwerp, discuss ideas for a crime movie about a man who will travel on the same train they are on. This character, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, smuggles cocaine into Antwerp and becomes involved with a prostitute played by Marie-France Pisier. The two have daytime trysts involving sadomasochisticplay that eventually become fatal.
Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï. Melville is my absolute favourite director—a Frenchman who loved American gangster films and film noir, like me—this film stars my favourite actor Alain Delon playing a quiet hit man who follows the code of a samurai.
Roger Vadim’s Barbarella: Jane Fonda in some of the sexiest costumes ever. I adore her combination of innocence and total lack of shame about her sexuality. Campy fun. Shirley Clarke’s The Connection. I worked with director Immy Humes on an upcoming documentary about Shirley, who was an independent filmmaking rebel. My favourite film of Clarke’s is about a group of jazz musicians jamming in this Greenwich Village apartment as they wait for their drug dealer to come. A documentary film crew shoots them and it raises all sorts of questions about “realism.”
Agnès Varda’s Le Bonheur—absolutely beautiful, colourful film about a happily married couple, which takes a devastating turn after the man cheats on his wife. I really love the disparity between the colours and this dark undercurrent.
From your website I can see you are a total all-rounder when it comes to creativity! I love this. I also dabble in many art/creation forms. I’ve often felt the pressure to pick one art-form to focus on and excel in. Can you relate to similar concepts? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by having such an active mind?
I often do feel very overwhelmed! I have terrible insomnia due to my overactive mind. I often do most of my work into the night because I have no sense of time passing. My other passion besides painting is writing. I write very dark, twisted noir stories, psychological thrillers—a bit like Patricia Highsmith—and stories that fuse eroticism with horror. Once I am completely happy with my stories (I’m too much of a perfectionist which is why it takes me so long to complete a story!) I will eventually post them on my website with an illustration to accompany each story. My goal is to find a way to link my love of visual art with my writing.
See more of Elizabeth’s work on her website.
There’s something really powerful about this image by Marco Michieletto. The whole series (available here) has a very sensual energy but this image has a darker side that made me love it. The black and white colouring, amazing setting and pose and expression model Lina delivers all work together to make a piece of art. I just had to share! Hope you are all having a good week and getting through Mercury Retrograde… My computer keeps restarting itself with no warning…better post this lest I lose it! xx
Valie Export’s photograph Action Pants: Genital Panic shows her sitting with genitals exposed while pointing a gun at the viewer. Export’s work draws attention to the ideas of phallic power and whether it truly comes from biology or can be attained otherwise. Export showcases her lack of penis by exposing her own vagina but reclaims the gun as her phallic object and power. It was rumoured that this photograph came after a live performance, where Export walked around people seated in a theatre, her vagina at their eye-level, and pointed a gun at them while offering sex until the theatre was empty. This imagery reminds me of the film Magic, Magic where, post-hypnotism, the female protagonist walks into the room of a man who has been sexually harassing her (verbally) and rubs her naked vagina in his face, all while being asleep. The woman has no recollection of events the next day and appears mortified when the man confronts her about it. This scene acts to remind us that such overt sexuality is not ‘acceptable’ in a woman with both male anger and female humiliation driving this. Export’s photograph works in the opposite way, purposefully pairing femininity with macho aggression (common in a lot of her work) to blur set gender boundaries.
Performance artist and photographer, Claire Doyle, recently paid homage to Export’s work in her performance piece Habitual Body Monitoring: The Costume. Doyle draws attention to female body hair through her performance which you can watch above. The acceptance and freedom of female body hair has been gaining support in recent years with other artists like Petra Collins and Rhiannon Scnhiederman springing to mind.
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Firstly, I just want to acknowledge how cool it would be to have ‘art’ somewhere in my name. Lucky for Stephen, not so lucky for me. Stephen SwARTz is an analogue photographer who studied the craft well before digital was around. His work dates from the late 90s to the present but most of his work carries this 90s energy. I would put this down to the look of the women Stephen uses in his work, although I’m sure the analogue technique plays a part. It is pretty rare these days, with my beloved Ellen Rogers being the main contemporary analogue photographer I am aware of. I have chosen a selection of images from Stephen’s portfolio that appeal to me the most but I would recommend taking a look yourself to fully absorb yourself in his intent. Soft female forms are juxtaposed with geometric architecture to comment on the contrast between organic figures and structured forms and, on a deeper level, intuition and rationale. Stephen uses female figures to express his own feelings as a man, allowing him to explore his own emotional state – something he notes men often try to push down. It is important to respect the skill and patience it takes to work as an analogue photographer, especially in the age where digital technology runs rampant. I’m not one to talk, being a digital artist myself after all. I suppose at the end of the day, the most important thing is to simply acknowledge and respect art, both as the end form, as well as the techniques used to get there. I hope you enjoy these striking photographs. I just adore the first image and find some connections to William Mortensen’s work in a few of the others. Delightful.
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I love the connections between these photographs by Francesca Woodman. Both are feminist pieces (and obviously stunning!) in my opinion. The first positions Woodman’s girl-like face and ribbon with a more developed body through breasts and underarm hair. I really dig this part of the image because it is really quite subtle but entirely transforms the image from look at me to what are you looking at? So much strength and power as woman is conveyed.
The second image is cropped in a similar way and while the subject matter is also similar it expresses another concept. The idea of submission and rape come to my mind. Woodman’s face and body language retreat, her arms up and blank face saying ‘take me’, ‘do what you want with me’. Her hands scream I am innocent, don’t shoot through a familiar gesture, but the painted hand on Woodman’s chest indicates violation, unacknowledged hands. We can tell it is her hand that she has painted around, but ideas of other hands touching her come to mind. Combined with her submissive position, and the police aspects (hands up, painted body outline from crime scenes) this adds a sinister aspect which really makes the image so amazing. Francesca Woodman, you were one talented photographer. Thank you for sharing yourself with us, we are lucky.
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David Bray is one truly talented artist. His amazing pen and pencil drawings are detailed and emotive, making them significant both for the technique and content. I have selected a few pieces that appeal to me, but with such a great portfolio you really should check out his other work where you can see more variety in mediums. I love drawings that are evocative. The way Bray balances detail with raw artistry results in his work being a captivating, aesthetic experience that is most certainly evocative. Enjoy!
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I just love this image by photographer, Shaina Hedlund. I find it one of the best photo-layering images I have seen in a while. I think there is something about this style that is always powerful and evocative, as well as often being very clever and always worth sharing. Enjoy this stunning image and enjoy the weekend that is upon us (yay)!