The slope of a hip, the swell of a breast, the sinewy muscles underneath the flesh; the human body is a form of art in and of itself. This is a sentiment that resonates across cultures, evidenced in how often the nude figure appears throughout history in art and literature. Painterly exploration of the human form is familiar terrain, but in How Far Between and Back at Monique Meloche Gallery, Brittney Leeanne Williams eschews references to traditional depictions (i.e. eurocentric, allegorical, white) choosing instead to push past the limits of the human body and portray them as fraught, abstracted, and entangled, grounding them firmly in the surreal contemporary.
The show of seven works is a study of a range of bodies and their various parts set against hot landscapes and sharp geometric framing. Surrounded by tropical foliage, William’s female figures are vastly different from the classical depiction of the nude female form. With their generous rolls of flesh, William’s subjects more closely align with the bodies of everyday women. The women in her paintings carry a sense of heft that contradicts the westernized standard of beauty idealized in our visual media. She further distances her subjects from western tradition by not depicting them as leisurely or reclined, but instead as yielding to gravity, or perhaps some other unknown force that tugs them downward. Williams’ subjects are slouching, collapsed figures, and contorted tense muscular forms. The bodies on the canvas aren’t always obvious; Williams breaks them down so thoroughly that errant body parts appear across all of the works. Sometimes the form is lost among the other details, leaving you searching for the recognizable curvatures of flesh. Other times the bodies fold into themselves, expanding and filling the canvas. Her red-colored subjects are all unidentified, headless and faceless, mashed together and transformed. In some instances, they resemble slabs of skin pulled taut over muscle and fat, in others, they appear like plumes of searing red smoke or a flutter of red leaves. About the show, Williams writes simply, “each [piece] represents a multitude of women: the artist, the mother, the daughter.”