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Ashley Crawford on Sophia Hewson's latest exhibition...
DELICATE AND BRUISED: SOPHIA HEWSON
The phone rang. It was him. “Where are you?” she asked. “Home,” he said. His number hadn’t appeared on the screen. He was lying. He was with the ‘other’. Hold that information, she thought. She can use it later. Revenge.
Deception can come in numerous forms and Sophia Hewson, despite her tender age, knows quite a few of them. It starts the second you see them. These huge, colour- saturated Type C photographic prints, the kind that are so much in vogue at the present time. And there you are, already entranced, already deceived, already embroiled in her machinations.
They are, of course, not photographs at all. But they are so tightly rendered, so technically adept, that it is hard not to use the term ‘photo-realism’ - and there you have fallen straight into the second trap. Hewson has no interest in following an old trend - she is creating a new world, albeit a shadowy and seductive one. Her ‘realism’ is a magical one, not unlike the fictions of Borges, using the bricks and mortar of the ‘real’ world to lure us into her labyrinths.
But we are still to fall into her ultimate trap. What is more alluring, more seductive, than the female form? Hewson’s series of scantily clad females is all the more seductive for their lack of nudity. They are vertiginous in their eroticism, cruelly teasing in fleshly offerings, head thrown back in abandon, Hewson’s model in Hero & Leander is, of course, her. And thus we are not only caught up in the role of aficionado, but that of voyeur, entrapped by feminine mischief.
Hewson’s women, whilst stylistically removed, have much in common with the femme fatales of such contemporaries as Heidi Yardley and Jane Burton. There is an indelible strength in these women on women - as though what was once the domain of the voracious male gaze has been co-opted - post feminism - into a weapon of female dominance. We can look but we cannot touch, the slick surfaces creating a potent reflective and accusatory sheen.
And then we realise that yet another trap has been laid. Not only are we caught in the high sheen of varnish, making us complicit in her machinations, we then discover that sheen is damaged. From a distance the dents and bruises in the flesh of her surface are invisible. Up close these once impenetrable images reveal that slickness to be yet another fiction; the hard, almost photographic technique is, in fact, vulnerable; the virtuoso paintwork is deliberately vandalised, undermined by Hewson in an act of self-abasement.
Her cast of subjects are both universal and of the zeitgeist; there is the nihilistic, blank-eyed visage of Monte; the vampish, dark-eyed lass of Below Grounds, a clearly gothic image replete with owl. A dangling ribbon suggests both the feminine and abandonment while the horns of African Migrant hint at voodoo ritual, sacrifice and religiosity.
In his 1981 novel Easy Travel to Other Planets, American author Ted Mooney pre-empted one of Hewson’s most striking images. “Peter swam rapidly toward her, then glided between her legs, forcing them apart with his body and striking her shins with the front edges of his bony flippers.” Peter is, of course, a dolphin and it takes little to imagine what comes next. Hewson is unafraid to tackle risqué subjects, from outré sexuality to physical carnage in the form of a butchered pig and psychological confrontation in the form of the Rorschach test.
These are works that are both timeless and very much of the here and now. They are works of potent alchemy and melancholic grandeur. Goodnight Atala, her magnum opus, captures it all with powerful chiaroscuro as the father figure emerges from the stygian dark, in his arms the sacrifice of innocence.