Elise Ansel

Cadogan Contemporary presents 'yes I said Yes', a solo exhibition of new paitings by acclaimed American artist Elise Ansel

Central to Ansel’s project is her practice of translating Old Master paintings into a contemporary pictorial language through the lens of feminine subjectivity. She uses an idiom of energetic gestural abstraction to mine art historical imagery for colour and narrative structure, abstracting and interrupting the representational content, in order to excavate and transform meanings and messages embedded in the works from which her paintings spring.

Comprised of over fifteen paintings, the exhibition includes responses to masterpieces such as Titian’s Rape of Europa (1560-62). Ansel transforms scenes of violence against women into images of consensual pleasure.

“Painters of that era used mythological content to explore eroticism,” Ansel says. “My attack is on sexism, not on sex. My intent is to reclaim the erotic energy and discard the violent coercion. In Titian’s painting, the strength of the male aggressor is re-enforced by the agency of the male painter. I reverse the polarity.

“The heretofore silent object (of the male gaze) is granted agency and becomes the subject, the author of the narrative, which she has the power to change.”

Elise Ansel, 'Europa Consensual'
Comparison between the original 'Titan's, Rape of Europa', and Ansel's transformation of the piece called 'Europa Consensual.'

At face value Ansel’s work is not overtly political or feminist but by applying her contemporary female perspective to centuries-old male works of art, Ansel addresses art history’s hegemonic, and often misogynistic, narrative, as well as the continued gender inequality in our society. Says the artist: “I flip the orientation and use abstraction to interrupt a destructive narrative and transform it into a revel of colour, movement and asymmetrical balance, building on what’s already there to create something new.”

It is this balance between social statement and painterly process that gives Ansel’s work its compelling combination of depth and accessibility. Her political message may be strong, but it never overshadows the sheer beauty of her paintings, which act as a dialogue not only between artist and viewer, but also artist and artist.

Ansel states “My paintings are not a critique of the Old Masters but rather a use their depth and resonance to shine a light on disparities that plague our society today.”

Elise Ansel, 'Pink Angels for Delacroix'
Comparison between the original 'Death of Sardanapalus', and Ansel's transformation of the piece called 'Pink Angels for Delacroix.'

The exhibition title, yes I said Yes, is carved from the last line of James Joyce’s Ulysses, a novel which inspired Ansel’s project of translating classical works into contemporary language. Slicing and re-arranging words from this text manifests the transformative energy, the sparagmos, the tearing apart, weaving, unraveling, and re-weaving that is the heart of her activity.

Ansel first creates small, spontaneous oil studies of the Old Master artworks. She uses these as points of departure for her large scale paintings, which she works out on a grid. The more considered large paintings embrace the choreography of the small works with an increased emphasis on colour and gesture. Sometimes she references the entire composition, sometimes she enlarges and abstracts a single detail.

Says Freddie Burness, Director of Cadogan Contemporary: “Elise’s work fuses accident and design, intuition and intellect, abandon and constraint. The subject also becomes the substance and surface of oil paint, the range of its applications, the ways it can be used to celebrate life.

“We are delighted to be staging our fourth solo presentation of one of the most compelling abstract artists of her generation.”

The exhibition is being held between the 1st to the 18th October, with a private viewing on Thursday 3rd October. For more information visit: www.cadogancontemporary.com