Maria Lassnig at Fundacio Antoni Tapies
The Maria Lassnig exhibition at Fundació Antoni Tàpies exposes the artists’ internal conflicts and persistent strength in a very personal collection of paintings and videos made during her seven-decade career. Maria Lassnig (1919–2014) was an Austrian artist who spent her life between Vienna, Paris, and New York. In 1948 she coined the term “body awareness” to describe her practice, this meant that she only painted the parts of her body which she actually felt while working and the result is an image which reflects her emotions as well as her physical appearance. The exhibition is comprised of 50 paintings, the vast majority of which are self portraits, some more expressive and surreal than others but always with an underlying vulnerability. She uses bold and unusual colours to convey different moods, she has said that blue represents hope, red is hurt, and gold is “a poisonous colour.” Her paintings are provocative and unsettling, a portrait of her inner fears and anxieties, but even so they should not be taken too seriously, there is a definite layer of humour and irony in her work.
Lassnig’s paintings depict different visions of herself with shocking honesty and reveal her fearless self-criticism. She pictures herself with her brains spilling out, as a monster, as a science fiction character, and even as an alpine cow. In the powerful painting that welcomes us into the exhibition, You Or Me (2005), Lassnig paints herself in her eighties, naked, legs spread open, and holding a gun in each hand. One pointing directly at the viewer, and the other at her own head. She represents her aging body as it is, coming to terms with mortality. It is interesting also that she always paints herself with the same facial expression and in almost identical position, one which is surely not the most flattering.
The three videos shown, Self Portrait (1971), Palmistry (1973), and Kantare (The Ballad of Maria Lassnig, 1992) are at once humorous and tragic, touching on the same themes as her paintings. In The Ballad of Maria Lassnig, she sings a 14-verse autobiographical song wearing a variety of elaborate costumes against an animated background illustrating her story. In the song we are made aware of her difficult childhood and the struggles she has faced with her family and society as a female, unmarried artist. She declares “A man, a child, is not my destiny. The art academy was my destiny – I painted better than any man.” The video juxtaposes the serious issues of her life with very comical and flamboyant visuals and laughable sound -like a very out of tune children’s song. The product is a witty and wise commentary on the pains of living.
Lassnig is shown as a rebel, and her work reveals a powerful inner strength. It is admirable how readily and completely she is prepared to expose herself, as much her flaws and weaknesses as her strengths. She gives herself completely to her art, and shows no restraint. Her work is raw and often disturbing, and will not be to everyone’s taste, but the exhibition is without a doubt fascinating. Whether or not you like the paintings themselves, it is worth a visit even if just to catch a glimpse of this provocative individual.
Maria Lassnig will be on at Fundació Antoni Tàpies until the 31st of May 2015.