Pure Pleasure

Pure Pleasure, video, 16:55 mins, 2018

Installation view, Pure Pleasure, Mizuma Gallery, Tokyo, 2018

(something flippant) Pure Pleasure

by Jonathan Watkins, director at IKON Gallery, UK

"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.

Interview, Pure Pleasure, Mizuma Gallery, Tokyo, 2018

Installation view, Places unknown, Pure Pleasure, Mizuma Gallery, Tokyo, 2018

Installation view, Pure Pleasure, Mizuma Gallery, Tokyo, 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. “Pure Pleasure” consists of a series of watercolor nudes, stills and videos; of Groobey’s partner sleeping, sunbathing, eating watermelons, dancing and generally exemplifying the myriad ways one can practice joie de vivre.

Groobey is the fourth winner of the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation’s Art Prize, which offers a British artist a solo exhibition in Japan. The artist hails from the rainy north of England but divides her time between Yorkshire and the South of France. Mediterranean sunshine, a sea-breeze, good food and wholesome outdoor activities are palpable in the works of “Pure Pleasure,” which all display a dynamic physicality. It’s significant that for many of the nudes, Groobey’s partner is placed a little bit in front of the background, evoking the sense of one of Picasso’s subjects stepping out from the frame and reclaiming her agency after a lifetime of objectification. 

Groobey’s palette may be light, but “Pure Pleasure” is not shallow. There is something poignant and courageous about the exhibition; pleasure claimed with a life-affirming fierceness, only possible to those who have known despair. It’s masterful that Groobey keeps the ostensibly ‘subversive’ perspective of a queer female gaze easy-going in the face of an artistic canon which denies her existence. That being said, “Pure Pleasure” has a message that transcends gender or sexual orientation. Pleasure is allowed, it is necessary and good. This idea itself is revolutionary in a built-up, crowded city like Tokyo, notorious for glorifying overwork and self-punishment. 

Text by Julia Mascetti, Metropolis, Tokyo, Japan, 2018

Installation view, I want the moon, Pure Pleasure, Mizuma Gallery, Tokyo, 2018

Installation view, I want the moon, Pure Pleasure, Mizuma Gallery, Tokyo, 2018

Pure pleasure, A4 watercolour on paper, 2017

Installation view, Pure Pleasure, Mizuma Gallery, Tokyo, 2018

Installation view, Pure Pleasure, Mizuma Gallery, Tokyo, 2018

Installation view, Pure Pleasure, Ikon Gallery Tower Room, Birmingham, UK, 2018

Give me what I want, A4 watercolour on paper, 2017

Installation view, Give me what I want, Pure Pleasure, Ikon Gallery Tower Room, Birmingham, 2018

Exhibitions supported by

Daiwa Foundation Art Prize

With special thanks to

Ikon Gallery

Mizuma Gallery


Atopos Venice


 © 2019 Kate Groobey

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