Nadja Kirschgarten sees the world through an unabashedly female lens. She depicts women’s naked bodies, not as passive sexual objects, but as proud, primal, striving beings. Kirschgarten grew up looking at passive, sexualised images of women in art history books. She first encountered ideas of the female form as portrayed by canonical painters such as Manet, Cezanne and Giovanni Segantini – “male idols with their male attitude”, as she has recently described them. As a grown woman and developing artist, she began to consider these older images – and the male gaze that both produced and consumed them – with a far more critical eye. At the same time, she also became more aware of the increasingly sexualised, bordering on pornographic, ways that images of women are framed in the contemporary media.
The starkly pale women in her most recent paintings – rendered in her trademark heightened palette in a mix of romantic washes and scrawled brushstrokes – are naked and apparently marooned in male-free dystopias. Some of these protagonists are using their physical power to perform primeval tasks: gripping a slippery sturgeon in their bare arms in Sturgeon; determinedly dragging a blackened net from the sea, bulging with oil-coated fish in Out of Sea, or warming their bare breasts as they congregate around a wood fire in Warm Up. These women undertake their stereotypically male activities crouching, sitting with their legs askew or breasts hanging free – entirely unconcerned with the narrow standards of sexiness that contemporary women are so insidiously encouraged to exemplify, yet strangely enticing on their own terms.
Kirschgarten also paints figures that inhabit even more ambiguous scenarios, such as the seemingly startled woman looking at an unknown spectacle in Lakeside, or the fearless, suggestively open-legged figure confronting a dog in Tempting. Paintings such as Sea Life or Little Pony also have a certain magic realist edge, aligning her with contemporary filmmakers and authors such as Guillermo del Toro and Carmen Maria Machado, who use fantastical tropes to convey crucial ideas about the current state of the world. Filmic and unnerving, these are paintings of nostalgia, sentimentality and longing, yet with a strong analytical and critical backbone.
(works and lives in London, writer for reviews and features of contemorary art magazines like: This is Tomorrow, Temporary Art Review, Doggerland etc.)