EYES OF ROXANA HALLS
Martin Green & James Lawler
Artist talk with DuoVision Martin Green & James Lawler
Saturday 21st May 2pm
London Solo show
Photo Kris Kesiak
Wednesday 11th May
Thursday 12th – Tuesday 24th May
Roxana Halls is an award-winning British painter best known for her images of women laughing while escaping from catastrophic situations. Her work has been exhibited in numerous group shows and she has held several solo exhibitions including at The National Theatre, South Bank, London. Her commissions include Alan Grieve CBE, Chairman of the Jerwood Foundation and for BBC Arts. She has been a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Only Artists, recorded in her London studio and she was the featured artist of the first episode of BBC One’s Extraordinary Portraits.
She is exhibited and collected widely in the UK and internationally including the permanent collections of St. Catherine’s College Oxford, The Scottish National Portrait Gallery & The Science Museum.
Eyes of Roxana Halls curated by DuoVision (Martin Green and James Lawler) references Irvin Kershner’s stylish neo-noir film Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) and their shared concerns around the nature of spectatorship and performance in relation to women’s bodies. Like the film’s fashion photographer protagonist, Halls takes her own photos, but she creates scenarios with model-collaborators in her South London studio not on location and these images evolve into paintings.
The red-lipped, lilac-haired Queen of Spoons opens the show with flair. Her record-breaking feat screams Magnetism! Exaggeration! Performance! Pick a spoon, any spoon, and partake. Halls deploys similar strategies to Eyes of Laura Mars: self-reflexivity and a dizzying use of illusion within illusion (sitting for Halls, an actress re-plays the part of a model posing for a fictitious artist in the painting Katherine Parkinson as ‘Mary’), as well as an array of references to popular culture and high art. Unfolding through rooms, are works from several series, including ‘Appetite,’ and the renowned ‘Laughing While…’ Halls appears to reveal herself through the self-portraits. She declares her sexuality and marital status in The Artist and Her Wife (fitting that as Duovision celebrate their decade with Halls’ show, this painting of her own duo is a decade old). Threesome II wrests back women’s sexual desires from the fantasies of heterosexual men through a gestural Polari, the secret code once used by gay communities for their own protection. Halls hints at working-class roots in the baroque Carvery, poised like Caravaggio’s Judith over a roast chicken, table laden with white sliced bread, Fray Bentos pie, a potato pyramid. But these self-portraits are performances too, more overt when she transgresses by Laughing with my Mouth Full or layers hairpieces and blackens teeth in Sweet Tooth. All Halls’ women compel us to stare because they make spectacles of themselves. Peer into another room and not even the dolls – neither sex dolls nor child’s toys – are compliant. Eye Candy’s fragmented mannequin is held together with string for suspenders but one arm’s still in her suitcase, her dress is splayed and creased on the bed, and the telephone is off the hook. She has no hands with which to hold her hand mirror, so it faces outward, insisting we take a good look at ourselves because she’s not ready to play.
If the act of looking has been linked to consumption, women’s bodies as food, Halls revels in appetites that won’t be sated. Her women create detritus and disorder. They confound with magic tricks and shadow play. Hold your breath as the white gloved hands of The Tablecloth Trick launch crockery skywards, or as spoons hover over lush quivering jellies in A Taster for the Hungry Housekeeper. Multiple arms slide out from under Feeding Table to grab what they can: a juicy orange, a celery stick. A hand reaches for that tempting red apple. Girl Table with her cream-smeared mouth and smashed plates subverts the slick misogyny of Allen Jones’s woman-as-table sculpture. On her tablecloth skirt, a long, sharp knife points in our direction, warns us to keep away. These women aren’t confined to domestic spaces. They also act out in public. Sushi’s lone diner (over)eats, stuffing two rolls in her mouth, refusing to be cowed by societal disapproval. A woman is oblivious to the spray of Coca-Cola as she imagines leading her own orchestra Laughing While Conducting – Bottle. Commissioned by Carolina Herrera for International Women’s Day 2022, Pulse Points, grants women their wish to walk through the city at night without fear. In stark contrast to the brutally murdered victims in Eyes of Laura Mars, Halls’ models brandish their stiletto shoes with glee.
Aftermath. A hiatus in grisaille: Laying the Table, a burnt-out shell of a post-apocalyptic city; the Chevelure Series named after Baudelaire’s poem fetishizing the hair of his mistress, evokes the abject. These women’s backs arouse curiosity but also make stalkers of us. Perhaps there has been a death after all, foreshadowed by memento mori allusions earlier in the show – the curling peel of a lemon, a cut avocado.
Then, Grand Finale! In full colour. In a Disneyesque cartoon forest, with woodland animals for audience, two partners in crime are Laughing While Digging. Spoons become shovels. They may have a body to conceal or to exhume. It won’t be a woman’s.
Text Marie-Anne Mancio