LISA YUSKAVAGE and ‘The Brood’

Fraiman-web1Jeff Fraiman at The Brooklyn Rail:

Yuskavage would no doubt recognize that her diptych is the distant spawn of a Renaissance master. A formative experience in her education was seeing Giovanni Bellini’s sacra conversazione altarpiece in the church of San Zaccaria, Venice. Her encounter with the painting, which positions saints from different historical periods in communion with the Virgin and Child in an impossible, atemporal meeting, helped the young artist consider the importance of the use of space. It is a short mental leap from Bellini’s religious works to what Yuskavage calls her “symbiotic” portraits, wherein multiple figures populate a painting without necessarily interacting, or even acting, in narratively cohesive ways.

Fireplace (2010) presents two women in a dimly lit interior. One bends forward and covers the other’s ears as if protecting her from an external, imminent danger. The latter figure sits in a 180-degree straddle, her pudendum on full display behind the mounds of fruit stacked in the painting’s lower corners. Her body appears cold, marmoreal even, impervious to the heat emanating from the titular fireplace. The room is illuminated from the right despite the lambent flames at the left; the standing brunette’s right knee, nearest to the fire, remains in shadow. The setup is an inversion of Pliny the Elder’s description of a painting of “a boy blowing a fire, which throws a light upon the features of the youth,” or the paintings of Gerrit van Honthorst, known as Gherardo delle Notti, a Utrecht follower of Caravaggio who introduced torches as an artificial source of light to the tenebristic scenes that proliferated in the early seicento. In Yuskavage’s surreal interior, the lack of internal logic between fire and figures corresponds to the uncanniness of the women themselves.

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