Start Again, an essay by Charlotte Jansen, Sim Smith, London, 2020. "I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows of unheard songs. Time and again I, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst -- burst with forms much more beautiful than those which are put up in frames and sold for a stinking fortune." — Hélène Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa, 1975 Groobey, an Englishwoman, now lives in the rural south of France - the same terrain where the masters of Modernist painting once roamed. The palettes and psyches of Cezanne, Manet, Picasso, Matisse inhabit a fraught presence in Groobey's work; questioning whether to quote from them, or quash them. Her return to the medium of oil painting - after some years - brings her inevitably back to the beginning, to those artists who first taught her how to look, how to paint. By addressing the male masters, Groobey stakes her authority over the desirous gaze, over the female figure, over the painterly act and gesture, apprehending the patriarchal structures inherent in painting, and in the way we look and are looked at. Groobey insists on the subjective nature of the artist's gaze by going beyond the painting, bringing her subject to life with costume, music and movement, introducing her own body in a kind of ritualistic and erotic worship. While Groobey's aesthetic appreciation of the indomitable legacy of her male predecessors is evident in both her watercolour works and her oil canvases, Start Again aligns with the ideas of another French cultural figure, Hélène Cixous. As the godmother of a new radical kind of feminist creativity, in the 1970s Cixous urged the re-imagining of "woman for women". A woman's individual body and sexuality should be intertwined with her creativity, without shame or fear, in order to "become at will the taker and the initiator, for her own right, in every symbolic system, in every political process."
(Something Flippant) Pure Pleasure, an essay by Jonathan Watkins, Director at IKON, Birmingham, UK, 2018 “At LACMA, I stood looking at a Picasso painting called Man and Woman where the male figure is pointing a knife at the woman’s vagina, when a male security guard (laughing) said, “Picasso was a pig!” That encounter stuck with me and as I started to make my Pure Pleasure paintings I turned my attention to an unexplored perspective in the history of painting, that of a woman painting her female lover, woman on woman, with a desiring female gaze. I realised that when we see a female figure in a painting we are only used to seeing the desiring male gaze or self-portraits.” Kate Groobey, 2018 Kate Groobey’s Pure Pleasure is a deceptively easy-going body of work. Comprising video and dressed mannequins as well as painterly paintings, it is as ingenuously joyful as it is philosophical, at once hedonistic and knowing. The artist’s feminist observations on the canon of art history - incidentally informing museum acquisitions and displays since museums were invented – are not unfamiliar, but her artistic response is extraordinarily original, subtle and refreshing. Born in Leeds (1979), having studied fine art in Oxford and London, Groobey now lives between Yorkshire and the south of France. The latter, with its landscape and lifestyle sharply contrasting with the milieu of her upbringing, inspired her to embark on a series entitled The Good Life (2017), paintings and videos that depict friends and acquaintances aspiring to a wholesome balance between physical and mental wellbeing. There is joie de vivre in their reading, swimming and playing outdoors, but with typical wit Groobey conveys her humane understanding of the difference between ambition and actual achievement. The Good Life evolved into Pure Pleasure. In a recent interview Groobey explained that she painted a series of nudes and portraits of her partner while they were travelling through California, and this inspired the title: “[It] was something flippant she said, ‘I am pure pleasure’, but that phrase seemed to me to sum up my feelings about the landscape, about paint, about her and about the time of year; it was the start of summer.” Classical antiquity, the Renaissance, Rembrandt, Gauguin, the German Expressionists – Picasso! - and countless other (mainly male) artistic precedents immediately spring to mind for Groobey’s nudes in landscapes. She acknowledges the tradition as much as she revels in the act of painting itself - often standing on her canvases in a performative process - and this corresponds to the videos in which we see her dancing as different painted characters against landscape backdrops. With happy homemade soundtracks, it is as if she has stepped through a picture plane to impress upon us the feeling of pure (female) pleasure. Furthermore, the artist’s English sense of humour makes her work stronger, more ambiguous; she knows that we know that she knows that the good life, happiness and pleasure are not so simple, but then, as impulses, they are compelling. She embraces the complexity, the politics – the sexual politics – with a life enhancing spirit.
Pure Pleasure, an interview by Julia Mascetti, Metropolis Japan, 2018 “Give me what I want” — the words are uncompromising, and could even be threatening, but there is nothing remotely violent about the playful figure dancing joyfully in front of me. Depicting subjects is not enough for Kate Groobey – she has physically inserted herself into her art, donning her own nude paintings as a costume and creating videos of the female form, moving with vivacity to music of the artist’s creation. “Pure Pleasure” problematizes roles from the outset: who is the artist and who is the subject? Who gets to look and who is looked at? Who has the right to pleasure? The exhibition explores an underrepresented perspective in the history of art — that of a woman painting her female lover with a desiring female gaze.
Super Flatland, White Conduit Projects, London, Paul Carey-Kent, 2020 Kate Groobey animates flatness through pointedly comical dances, inspired by a residency in Japan. She has an intoxicating way of combining her own painted backdrop, dance moves, comically flat costumes, rapped words and music - thoroughly confusing levels of reality. In 2018 she saw the legendary statue of Senju Kannon, the multi-armed goddess holding symbolic instruments for the protection of her followers, in Japan. In Groobey's version a woman protects herself against the threats – whether internal or external is ambiguous – of Asshole and Stink: ‘Hey queen of poo / Whatʼcha gonna do? / Comb your soul? / It’s knotted though and through.’ Nine vignettes and nine imaginative kits see the heroine defend herself with such symbols as a giant pencil, arrows, stars and hearts. She ends as a triumphant owl: ‘Lightning strikes across my thighs / And all my enemies will die.’
I'm made of milk, an essay by Alfred MacAdam, Brooklyn Rail, 2017 "to succeed you must “man-up." Kate Groobey's zany vision is an argument for a new kind of gestural figuration. Beyond the gender-neutral space of total abstraction stands a vast territory women artists must appropriate and reconstitute. Groobey shows how to go about achieving that goal: humor both disarms and seduces the spectator; brilliant color draws us in. These paintings delight and teach at the same time: the Milk Person Cometh!
Assholes of Ambition, an essay by Maria Villa, Ribot Gallery, Milan, 2019 Groobey’s diverse practice ranges from two-dimensional painting to the animated vitality of performance, bringing to life the characters from her painting through a series of improvised sketches for which she devises the costumes, settings, and music. Her visit, together with her partner and muse, the writer Jina Khayyer, to the famous Sanjusangendo temple in Kyoto, was the inspirational source for this transversal project. Thanks to her journey to Japan, Groobey discovered the Dea della Misericordia dalle 1000 braccia, the thousand - armed goddess: in other words, Senju Kannon, the ultimate female “multitasker” who, with her innumerable limbs, holds aloft a series of objects of great symbolic value, among which are some objects for defence: an arrow, a bell, a mirror, and a moon. And it is this very theme of protection that lies at the centre of the Assholes of Ambition series which was inspired by the events that happened last year to her muse Jina Khayyer, events that raised a question that is as complex as it is fascinating: what are the tools that a woman needs to protect or even save herself? In the paintings on show, all characterised by a strong narrative sense, there cohabit contrasting and recurrent symbols such as hearts, which are metaphors for compassion and empathy, and bolts of lightning, which are the emblems of power and strength. There are also references to wisdom, protection, and power, here represented by a large pencil, an owl, the sun, the moon, and the stars. The Assholes of Ambition series also reflects on some ambivalent motifs and images with a double value: examples are the arrows and the encircling hands that might refer as much to a protective force as to an external attack. It is from this subtle ambiguity that there come about further thoughts and a second question: does the greatest menace come from within or without?
POWERFUL BODIES essay by Max Kaario, PLATFORM, David Zwirner with Sean Horton, 2022. "women can be as strong or stronger than men." The figurative representation of human bodies in Western painting has often offered narratives of ideal beauty or gestural postures that portray civilized demeanor rather than somatic experience. Women especially have been endemically portrayed as an ideal of beauty and almost always through the gaze of a male painter. Since the mid-20th century, artists have been questioning ideals of bodily beauty as a tool of subjugation. Indeed, much contemporary art practice includes a celebration of the body in all its forms. This was perhaps most poignantly initiated by the experimental performance art of the 1960s. For example, Carolee Schneeman and the collectivity around Judson Dance Church radically recalibrated expectations of what is representative of human movement, action, and form. In contemporary painting, this resistant vigilance is maintained through a questioning of standardized versions of storytelling, behavior and physical beauty. Contemporary painting recalibrates the expectations of painterly skill, sometimes crudely rendering human figures, inverting gender norms, representing impossible bodily postures, a reassertion of the image as capable of invoking ecstatic relief from the digital algorithms governing contemporary society. In Kate Groobey’s Female Stallion, the title is written horizontally at the bottom of the canvas, a semiotic anchorage which frames the painting through a humorous lens that upsets gender norms and transmits a sense of power. An ambiguously female human figure is posed in the mouth of a barely recognizable horse. There is a juxtaposition between the human and equine bodies, the establishment of a metaphor about strength and resistance. The work blows expectations of painterly skill out the window, exhibiting crude technique, allowing the image to function almost as a pictogram, clear in its message: women can be as strong or stronger than men.
Apple and Hat, review by Rebecca Geldard of 'Get into my Rainbow', as seen in NADA Curated 'Like a child' by Daonne Huff, 2022. "It's hard not to love the art of Kate Groobey, which makes it a curious thing to think about before beginning to assess why that is. Its gloriousness lies in the simplicity of her approach - but of course elaborately manufactured in ways that hide a heap of complexities. Harnessing the power of perhaps the worst of performance art conceits she creates living moments of the human subject as already depicted, in the round. The joys, problematics and multidimensional ideas around what it means to represent a thought, act or moment are combined and revealed through a ridiculous lens alive to the question of why we exist at all. In the venn mix of this we are freed from the specifics of all processes in play to consider that rare thing in the days of perpetual recording - the elusive state of actual presence "
Something close to the reality of love, an essay by Gabriella Pounds, Sim Smith, London, 2022 "The mood is hyper." Kate Groobey explores the zone between ‘reality' and ‘fantasy': the overlap in the Venn diagram where Fact and Verification Needed coil. At 'Female Stallion' the artist has created fictional characters modelled on her (real) wife – the writer and poet Jina Khayyer – that recur throughout her paintings and films. Groobey lifts bits of language from her and Khayyer’s everyday conversations into her art. In Female Stallion, for example, pink and purple paint flecks simulate a fashion freak. She wears very cool sunglasses, an acorn-coloured fedora and poses in front of a blue horse. The artist further ironises the scene in her eponymous performance piece; reanimating the character with in-built iPhone camera settings such as Boomerang. Recordings of Khayyer’s voice rip through Groobey’s films and music like a gentle poltergeist. Khayyer’s interiority appears to be represented, reimagined and shared between human bodies; approximating something close to the reality of love. The ‘personal’ label – so often lackadaisically sucker-punched onto ‘women’s art history’ – is negated here. What a relief. Drawing on medieval Japanese Nō plays, Groobey involves her confessions of a mask, where the limited visibility of the theatre accessory seeks to direct the performer and audience inward, aiding access to the inner galaxy of a character. In concert with the presiding philosophy of medieval Japan, Nō performers, characters and audiences were encouraged to empathically become one mind in many people. Groobey’s characters are unconcerned with symmetry or proportion. Their eyes are wide, limbs stumpy, noses button. They recall cute villagers from the Japanese video game Animal Crossing (2001). Get into my Rainbow depicts a smol figure submerged in a swirl of colour. The mood is hyper. And the artist seeks to inspire feelings of excitement. Groobey’s paintings point towards a futurity of existential autonomy without the heaviness of the 'I'. Baby pink, [aqua] green and a spill of [white] oils comprise Be in Bloom. Spears of wild flowers grow from the protagonist’s hair. And underscore the psychedelic ontologies latent in the natural world. Groobey’s compositions and headless drips of paint, meanwhile, evoke the German painter George Baselitz’s remix paintings, which in turn were a repurposing of Jackson Pollock’s abstractions into anti-heroic narratives. Evocative of cum shots, the artist reworks Baselitz’s failed hyper-masculinities into her own feminist art history. Looking at Goobey’s paintings, I am reminded of another Austrian doomer who expunged the ego shit in his – successful – anti–quest for the literary Universal. ‘I avoid [art] whenever possible, because whenever possible I avoid myself,’ the novelist Thomas Bernhard once wrote. Amen brother. Gabriella Pounds is a writer and critic from Brighton.