Giant Holiday, 2016
70" x 46"
48" x 36"
63" x 45"
The paintings of Marissa Bluestone show us her friends, often in their homes, in the middle of familiar, relaxed encounters. Standing figures, seated figures, reclining figures, sometimes alone, sometimes in complex relation to one another. Bluestone starts from a “realistic” image, then, distorting figure and perspective, light and shadow, she arrives at an inner psychology unavailable to simple realism. In some places the figures seem to escape obvious principles of proportion or correctness. Here in these formal abstractions lie the problems and solutions posed by her work, the contours of the body or of light that escape the photograph, that evade the purview of realistic, static representation, but which she can more imaginatively convey with her own techniques. Bluestone works towards a freer, more expressive painting, one through which she might capture the crookedness and vividness of her subjects, and choreograph their movements from the site of memory and record onto the canvas.
Through these motions Bluestone’s figures depart from figurative realism, becoming angled and expressive beyond the expected, accepted limits of their real physicalities. In her work bodies curve and extend in ways unnatural to anatomy, but natural to a subjective processing of memory, a reshaping of figure according to an inscrutable, interior feeling, shared somewhere between painter and subject. In this way the paintings record a movement. Bluestone’s paintbrush moves in ways that transform the physicalities of her subjects away from their actual histories, taking advantage of the relative liberation of a two-dimensional plane of representation.
Hands in particular are often manipulated, sometimes distended, even with missing fingers, even blurred together by a streaky excess of paint. The frames, understood in this work as explicitly framing the relationship between a painter and a subject, abruptly cut off an ear here, a tuft of hair there. This process complicates the figures by rendering them in an unconscious space beyond the frame where their movements continue, where their fullness as characters exceeds the scope of the actual work. Bluestone gives so much of her relationship to the figures in her painting, but also trims and obscures, suggesting an excess of memory unaccounted for, and necessarily cut from the edges of her work, leaving us with unanswered questions.
While in Bluestone’s painting the figures are most obviously contorted, the perspectival space is more subtly altered. Interior spaces compress themselves into her frames, enclosing the figures and coercing them into those focused, almost tortured poses. The effect is at first claustrophobic, as the three-dimensional space is flattened and squeezed, but the paintings present interiority, in architecture as well as personality, with generous, expansive gestures. Spaces seem to open up in drawers, coffee mugs, and neck crevices, and the fullness of the figures in the relatively cramped spaces seems to realize their complex potential rather than confine them. The figures thus expand not only beyond the frames, but also within. They even insinuate themselves forward beyond the two-dimensional plane, when Bluestone applies paint more thickly. In this way they exceed the not only two-dimensional framed limits of painting but also the flattened plane of the representational surface. In a portrait style piece, “Room”, she brings purple forward against bright yellow, accentuating the contrast by applying thick layers of purple in swirling motions of the brush, pulling the extra paint back towards her, and forwards out of the frame towards us.
These techniques represent an expression of memory beyond the mere recollection of images, towards a subjective distortion of figure, space, and light. If memory is typically imagined as the rational, sober minded recollection of the senses, Bluestone’s painting challenges that confidence. In its strenuous exercising of memory her work asks us whether her painting could record the way the scene was actually remembered, or the way the remembrance was actualized, whether it can be understood as a finessing and aestheticizing of memory or instead as a reflection on its inherent subjectivity. In transit from her recollection to the canvas, her figures twist and turn away from reality, but whether they do this through their own mysterious agency as characters, or through her own visual and mental operation, is unclear.
We are left with a consideration of the social and personal memory in a complex relation to the art, bound up together so that we cannot know which is the agent, and which is acted upon. The larger question for painting is how, when it does depict and deal with the body, as other mediums like video and performance art are more wont to do, its laborious process can act as a record of remembrance. In this way painting might be uniquely able to complicate an apparently simple relationship between image-seeing and image-making, particularly through the refractive lens of personal relationships, and through a gestural performance of remembering
— Kazuo Robinson