Artist Emma Stern and gallerist Meredith Rosen discuss ‘Escapism'

New York City’s Meredith Rosen Gallery brings together 19 different artworks, each representing a facet of escapism at a conceptual level.

by Shraddha NairPublished on : Jan 21, 2021

All of us need to get away sometimes, don’t we? Oh, I know I do. I am a regular escape artist, constantly running off to look for a different view with fresh energy. When I can’t escape geographically, I relocate emotionally through music, dance, art and movies - small vacations I can take without going too far. Whether physical or mental, getting away always helps me gain new perspective on my internal and external worlds. Escapism, however, can be a fine line between running away and adventurous discovery. Meredith Rosen Gallery invites us on a journey to unpack the myriad meanings and implications of the word Escapism itself.

Installation view of Chanel (Sour Apple) (2020) at Escapism | Escapism | Emma Stern | STIRworld
Installation view of Chanel (Sour Apple) (2020) at Escapism Image: Courtesy of Meredith Rosen Gallery

The exhibition at the New York City gallery brings together 19 different artists, each representing a different facet of the concept of escapism. The director of MRG, Meredith Rosen, tells us, “My intention was to keep the conversation as open ended as possible and allow the viewer interpret what escapism means to them during the pandemic. I used the quote:

“This is what I mean when I say I would like to swim against the stream of time: I would like to erase the consequences of certain events and restore an initial condition. But every moment of my life brings with it an accumulation of new facts, and each of these new facts bring with it consequences; so the more I seek to return to the zero moment from which I set out, the further I move away from it” by Italo Calvino from If On A Winters Night A Traveler (1979)”.

Susan Chen, John Drue S Worrell and Tina Braegger on view at MRG | Escapism | STIRworld
Susan Chen, John Drue S Worrell and Tina Braegger on view at MRG Image: Courtesy of Meredith Rosen Gallery

Rosen continues, discussing her process of selecting the artists, “A few of the artists are represented by MRG, some of the artists I have been in dialogue with for over 10 years and with some this is our first conversation. Each work was highly considered for the context of the exhibition and represents escapism is the broadest sense”.

Amber by Emma Stern | Escapism | Emma Stern | STIRworld
Amber by Emma Stern Image: Emma Stern

Of the 19 artists, most present two-dimensional artworks using media from watercolour and oil to digitally rendered prints. COBRA, Olivier Erlanger, Frank Benson and John Drue S Worrell are the only four artists to showcase sculptural works, providing some guidance to the viewer’s eye in the exhibition which is otherwise entirely wall-mounted.

Nina by Emma Stern | Escapism | Emma Stern | STIRworld
Nina by Emma Stern Image: Emma Stern

Of the range, Emma Stern’s three-dimensional digital render titled Chanel (Sour Apple) (2020) stood apart for me. In conversation with STIR, Stern tells us about her process, and the broader context of this ongoing series she is developing. The Brooklyn-based artist says, “This body of work combines a deep commitment to traditional painting and drawing with an interest in digital media, resulting in a kind of contemporary portraiture made possible by new technology. By using 3D software intended for video game developers to create virtual models to serve as my portrait subjects, my work emphasises and exacerbates the apparent inclination towards pornographic (or at least porn-adjacent) representations of women in three dimensional communities and gaming culture. Of utmost interest is the way in which the preferences, biases and predispositions of human developers appear by proxy in the software they write. As our virtual selves become ever-more inextricable from our physical selves, I am interested in how these preferences are imposed on virtual female bodies within the largely male-dominated arena of software and technology. The painting on view in Escapism is a portrait of one such recurring character, named Chanel, who has appeared on and off in my work”.

Naomi by Emma Stern | Escapism | Emma Stern | STIRworld
Naomi by Emma Stern Image: Emma Stern

Stern continues saying, “This highly contemporary subject matter stands in sharp contrast to the traditional medium of oil on canvas painting and charcoal drawing. I utilise these mediums in order to subvert the long-standing stigma surrounding the female nude or semi-nude, which throughout art history has been stripped of all mannerism, context and identity by a traditionally male demographic of artists. The body of work I am developing intends to produce the opposite effect. By painting portraits of fantasy-based, idealised figures which lack essential personhood to begin with, the viewer’s own humanity is reflected back to them in the eternally vacant stare of the painting’s subject, thus imbuing these otherwise empty vessels with subjectivity rather than removing it”. 

Escapism is on display at Meredith Rosen Gallery until January 30, 2021. The exhibition has been listed by Art Forum as a must see.

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