Catalogue for the Exhibition at Flowers
Red Bedroom, 2003
“All the world’s a stage” says the melancholy Jacques in Shakespeare’s As You Like It; a mere play where men and women act out their lives from infancy through to a second childhood “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”. The division of human life into a series of ages was a commonplace of art and literature in Shakespeare’s time. The number of ages varied: three and four being the most common among ancient writers such Aristotle. This almost imperceptible trajectory from innocence to encroaching decline is explored in Ishbel Myerscough’s series of five paintings, which begins with her cherubic two year old daughter and is followed by paintings of her six and nine year old sons, her adolescent niece and her husband. Although each work captures the individual model, together they add up to more than the sum of their parts; a metaphor for life and the passing of time. Standing to attention at the apparent seriousness of his task, is her six year old son, Fraser, in his little pants, his ribs clearly visible on his still fragile frame, while her nine year old, Herb, is more assertive; feet splayed and shoulders squared up to the viewer as if already touched by the first stirrings of adolescence. In contrast, her niece, Lily, with her golden Pre-Raphaelite locks, stands in flowered shorts on the cusp of a burgeoning sexuality like some modern day Primavera. Whilst her husband, the tallest and thinnest, is painted from the side with minimal information – reminiscent of one of Giacometti’s elongated figures – as if already disappearing.
Yellow Dress, 2009
To be a painter, a figurative painter and a portraitist to boot, might be considered as anachronistic as writing on vellum rather than on a laptop. Yet however often painting is pronounced dead, supposedly killed off by the ubiquity of photography, Ishbel Myerscough mines a fertile seam, embraced by other contemporaries such as Chantal Joffe and Jenny Saville, of intimate, truthful and, at times, uncomfortable paintings that reveal something of the inner world of her subjects. It was Oscar Wilde who perceptively observed that: ‘Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter’, and this must surely be considered the case with all successful modern figure painters from John Minton and Lucien Freud to Alice Neel. It is this disclosure, this frank dialogue of emotional exchange between artist and subject that colours Ishbel Myerscough’s work.
As a woman painting the figure she subverts the traditional gaze of the male artist towards the female subject. Her pairings of women lying together naked on a bed, or standing intimately close, as in her self-portrait with her close friend Chantal Joffe when both are heavily pregnant, explore the thin line in female friendships between warmth and intimacy and eroticism.
In these subtle, poetically spare paintings Myerscough reveals much more than the photographic likeness of her subjects. The haunted eyes of the mother clasping her child in Misery, 2006, painted soon after the death of her father, are imbued with something of the expressionistic anxiety and naked truth to be found in Munch.
Ishbel Myerscough Life at Flowers, London from 1 June to 25 June 2011
Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 2011
Images © Ishbel Myerscough 2003-09