The Invisible Sorceress
August 10 - October 24 2020
The LAB Gallery is pleased to present The Invisible Sorceress, an exhibition of drawings and paintings by Gemma Browne made over the past two years. The experience of the artist as mother, and the invisibility that comes with this changing role informs some of the impetus of the work alongside more universal feminist themes.
While the domestic space has seen a renewed focus in recent times due to lockdown, the feeling of being locked in is not new to carers of small children whose tiny demands eclipses all else. The reduced pace, the dramatic shrinking of your universe, the joy in creating a human alongside the exhaustion that comes with that responsibility, are feelings intensified by the most mundane of acts.
Over the past few months, many have felt overwhelmed by the anxiety and the seemingly apocalyptic spread of COVID 19, exhausted by the labour of the home, now relentless with the kitchen table as feeding/work/school station. At turns bored by the strangeness of time without appointments and at others enjoying the ability to set a new agenda that involved a reconnection with nature. Contentment in the now, contrasting with craving the outside world you once knew, is now relatable in different way to many who experienced the challenges of lockdown. With or without dependents, we were asked to take on the attributes of a carer, to put the vulnerabilities of others above our own freedoms and stay confined to our homes, our 2km radius, our region. We were asked to make a sacrifice together, to lock down, and this loss of freedom and connection to the world outside swayed between immense anxiety and the guilt of feeling like Marie Antoinette, luxuriating in the safety of a home, wondering when or if to feed a sourdough starter.
The female in Gemma’s work is depicted through dolls, presented with dollhouses, flowers, dresses, bows and vases. The decorative beauty on her pages and canvases show elaborate costuming reminiscent of Goya or Velazquez, of opulent palaces or the dollhouses of dreams, with additional references to the Madonna and child as depicted in western european art history. Hints of gardens and nature peak sweep in from the edges. The characteristics of beauty and the use of bold colours contrast with undercurrents of disquietude and at turns an almost angry edge.
There are references to witchcraft, women as spell makers and sorceresses. The work suggests the magical powers of females whose efforts are sometimes overlooked, unrewarded, but essential and depended upon. The woman is the glue keeping it altogether. The doll figures, at times set in almost stage like contexts, consider how women perform, a fake smile, a brave face, but a glass like gaze suggests a feeling of being trapped. As source material, the artist looks to old forgotten and once loved precious objects, out of print books and photos she has accumulated of dolls in charity shop windows. Her work connects back to different eras, the artist’s own childhood and earlier representations of antique china dolls.
Displayed here as a wall of women, they gather a power and hyper visibility, even from the street outside. Her ornate and energetic work is made with acrylic and coloured pencils on paper and acrylic on canvas with a varied and exuberant palette. A burst of glorious colour, to be read together or as individual stories, their titles, delicately added to the wall in pencil, draw you in further. Though it is impossible not to bring the new lens of our recent lockdown experience when viewing these works, the story of the Invisible Sorceress is not a new one, but it is told with a fresh visibility and vibrancy that ensures it cannot be ignored.
Sheena Barrett, Curator
Gemma Browne is an Irish artist born in London in the UK, but based in Dublin. She has exhibited widely in Ireland and internationally and has received many awards including from the Arts Council of Ireland. Recent shows include Kevin Kavanagh Gallery Dublin, Paper Cuts group show at Saatchi Gallery London, SuprEYES at the Lexicon Gallery, Dun Laoghaire, Faces, Places and Spaces at New Art Projects, London, When Supplies Last in Seattle and Got It For Cheap at Agnes B HQ in Paris and at The Hole Gallery, New York City. She has taken part in ARCO Madrid, Athina Athens, Manchester Contemporary and Atlanta Contemporary art fairs.
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Images of work by Gemma Browne, courtsey of the LAB Gallery, photographs taken by Louis Haugh