Contributed by Rob Samartino / Gyan Shrosbree’s first solo show at Ortega y Gasset Projects in Gowanus, “The Dress / What Touches the Floor,” is a radical vision of a conquering race of women. These larger-than-life chromatic experiments loosely adhere to the female-identifying body and have a confrontational aspect, as if approaching a mirror to affirm a kind of armored readiness for the world. Spawned and respawned, the women in these paintings at once blend into and stand out from a generative matrix made for, by, and of them. They claim the gallery the way a flag might. In this sense, they share their space with us as opposed to providing an escape into the simulated world of conventional painting. Emphasizing their mercurial and interchangeable quality, Shrosbree has painted the larger works (numbered 1–8) on tarps and merged them with the ground by means of smaller modular depictions of high-heeled shoes that stand paradoxically independent the bodies they complete. The entire show could be read as a cohesive installation, with smaller works placed like friezes in an ancient tomb.
Despite their fluorescent intensity, there is something refreshingly archaic about these paintings: they have the ritual stiffness of a new civilization. They are geometric and feature a kind of animism one might encounter in the symbolism of a polytheistic religion – a cat within an abdomen, an arm that may be a serpent, patterns of a dress that might be repetitions of eyes, a hand that can bite. We are looking at confident beings seamlessly integrated with their presentational context; there are no dominant or recessive forms, and it is only through a heightened awareness of our own bodies that we recognize them as such. The same shape that depicts a hand may also depict a high-heeled shoe; the same form that suggests a profile may also reveal the parting of hair or a coiled telephone cord. We find the semiotics of feminine power free from the sexualization of the male gaze.
Shrosbree’s visual devices remind us that while we do not choose our bodies, we do choose our clothing. In so doing, we are all artists in a sense. Her women are neither naked nor dressed; they are not wearing clothes so much as they are clothes. Thus, she bridges a gap between mind and body: what is chosen in the dressing room can shroud the imposition of our corporeal existence. (The closing event on February 25th will feature painted tunics sewn by the artists mother, Kathleen Shrosbree, and worn by anyone.) Shrosbree’s figures stand on the boundary between the symbolic and the figurative, the heraldic and the expressive, of having and of being. She provides a means of empathizing with one another through the gateway of the body, bringing celebration, agency, and liberation to an aspect of our condition that often imprisons us.
“Gyan Shrosbree: The Dress / What Touches the Floor,” Ortega y Gasset Projects, 363 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn, NY. Through February 25, 2023.
About the author: In 2020 Rob Samartino moved from Bushwick to Alpine, Wyoming, where he began painting scenes of the Rocky Mountains. His work is currently available at the Cawdrey Gallery in Whitefish.