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.
by Max Kaario, PLATFORM, October 2022