From the Spout #3 – ‘Girl with Freckles’ – Painting by Martha Zmpounou
When I decided that I wanted to do this week’s review on a piece of visual art I found myself pretty quickly heading to the National Open Art website (http://www.nationalopenart.org). National Open Art run a huge art competition and exhibition in the UK every year, which I was introduced to in 2017 when two artists I know through work, Richard Groom and Kurt Buckley, had works accepted into the exhibition. I decided to browse through some of the other pieces that were part of the 2017 NOA. Although viewing an artwork on my small screen rather than in person may mean that I miss some of the subtleties, I think it is certainly better than not looking, and so I will definitely be aiming to include visual art in the art forms that I write about each week, whether or not I have visited an exhibition. I think that visual art in our age of technology does have an extra challenge to look good on a screen and not only directly in front of a person. A lot of our publicity and the audience for our artwork is to be found at least initially online, and so standing up to viewing on someone’s device is important for all of our art, though it is wonderful when a piece of art gives you that extra something when you see it up close.
I chose ‘Girl with Freckles’ initially because a) it is watercolour, one of my most beloved mediums, and b) I love faces with freckles. The face in this portrait jumped out of the page at me. I liked the character that seemed to live in this face, and the complex, perhaps conflicting, emotions that seemed to be being expressed. When I read the description Martha Zmpounou had provided for her piece, however, I discovered that this painting had been designed to evoke what she described as the “misinterpretation of the human figure in the media” which she says is “balancing between beauty and repulsion.”
On reading this I looked closely for this contrast. I think it can be found in the girl’s expression, which is ambiguous; what I initially described as mixed emotion being displayed could really be intended to make the viewer think, “is she putting on a sultry stare for a camera, or is she frightened, lost or helpless?” She has one very blue captivating eye and one dark, shadowy eye that sits back in the picture. Depending which eye the viewer focuses on, the expression this girl appears to have on her face could be very different. The top of her head has been left as a blurred wash. On first looking at the painting I thought this was just to draw attention towards the facial features and fade out the outline of the head. However it may be intended to give the impression of a shaved head. Finally, the presence of red in the outlines around the face could be merely intended to suggest unusual lighting, or could be evoking the impression of rawness or injury. I think that Zmpounou was highlighting the way that the lighting, dress and poses or expressions chosen for some media or fashion photoshoots are deliberately designed to be somewhat ambiguous and eerie, a strange feature of modern culture.
Despite all the mysterious allusions to the strange or even sinister, I find that I like the face in the painting. It has an unclouded ‘looking straight into you’ simplicity. Perhaps what the girl sees is unpleasant. Perhaps it is merely profound. Only she knows. It’s a little harder to recommend tea for artwork, which might take you a few seconds or many hours to contemplate, but I think this is one for a straightforward, fresh green, such as T-bar’s Dragonwell. You can view the artwork at http://www.nationalopenart.org/gallery.php?action=search&filter=&sf=&mi=&search=Girl+with+Freckles&artist=&year=&x=85&y=12.