Start Again

Start Again, UHD Video, 1:57 mins, 2020

(Start Again)
Text by Charlotte Jansen, 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

Kate Groobey’s energetic paintings (in watercolour and oil) generously come to life in the form of music and performance - as is the case in her latest series of works on paper, canvas and video, Start Again. In these new works, the female figure we see throttling a pen over and over is sometimes wresting control from her weapon of choice, sometimes overwhelmed by it; her clumsy but powerful hands clutching, trying to master (even, masturbate) the tool. There is something absurd and even obscene about this never-ending image - but as is often the case in Groobey's work, comedy and sensuality belie profound and personal intent.

 

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.” 

 

Groobey’s urgent, insurgent method in Start Again, her circuitous, repetitive, inconclusive motions are the perfect realization of Cixous’ demand; to introduce the undulating rhythm and force of female bodies into the language of the work. In the paintings, Groobey’s protagonist (to use the word ‘muse’ would debase the relationship between Groobey and her partner, Jina Khayyer) is squatting - a posture ideal for excreting or giving birth. It is a position that requires stamina and muscular strength. It is the embodiment of the feminine, of our cyclical nature, a symbol of renewal - emptying out, to start again.

 

Groobey made these works during lockdown, and their energy is palpably different from what she has produced before. Groobey has always created her own world, her paintings don't just hang, they live and breathe and dance, as in Pure Pleasure, the series Groobey made after travelling with Khayyer in LA. Start Again represents a more intense, psychosexual innerscape, less about what we can take from the world and more about what might be given or produced. The exaggerated, large hands, symbolic of the act of labour, craft and art, are prominent in the composition; sensual and tender, they also become threatening, recalcitrant, as the mood and light shifts, day to night.

 

More than a year ago, Groobey travelled in Japan, after an artist residency and exhibition there. She was struck by the many, varied representations of the popular Buddhist deity, Kannon, the divine mother and goddess of mercy. Kannon is said to have 33 forms; some depictions have 33 heads and the Senju Kannon is in possession of 1,000 arms, each equipped with a different tool to solve any mortal problem. Groobey's encounter with Kannon resurfaces here through the repetition of this single image, her own goddess profane and personal, a totem of love and passion; part of a precious, private world that the viewer cannot fully enter; one shared by lovers alone.  And yet slowly, we realise, Groobey’s woman is also a simulacrum, the Everywoman present in every woman.

 

Cixous might have called these repeated images the “stream of phantasms”, the rich imaginary of women. I think too of Anaïs Nin, who once wrote, “I take pleasure in my transformations. I look quiet and consistent, but few know how many women there are in me.”

-Charlotte Jansen is a writer and curator based in London. She is editor at large at Elephant

Start Again, installation at Sim Smith, 2020

Start Again, installation at Sim Smith, 2020

Start Again, oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, 2020

Start Again, oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, 2020

Start Again, oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, 2020

Start Again, oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, 2020

Start Again, installation at Sim Smith, 2020

Start Again film lyrics

Start again

Or you’ll go insane

Do we build on something unsound

Or raze it to the fucking ground?

The world is in a lockdown 

You’d better go and knuckle down

Get started on your next verse

Before you need to see a nurse

There is no medicine in sight

It’s killed by ultraviolet light

Start again

Or you’ll go insane

Are you ready for my pencil?

Not sticking to a stencil

Start again, in a free state

Start again, it’s gonna mutate

Think it’s in my nasal cavity 

The virus is taking over my rhapsody    

Started on my next act

Before it reaches my respiratory tract

Start again

Before you get the pathogen

Get started with your pencil 

Before the r-rate’s exponential

We are in a pandemic

It’s real it’s not just academic

Time for you to begin

Don’t just take it on the chin

Start again but is the virus

Doing us like tyrannosaurus?

Lyrics to Start Again, written and performed by Kate Groobey

Start Again, installation at Sim Smith, 2020

“I continue to think how my work is always hijacked by the main events in my life and that’s why this series is so bound up with the lockdown, with the immobility of lockdown, physical and psychological, with the idea of being locked in a room, with a pen and a single, persistent, idea that bounces off the walls and repeats.” 

-Kate Groobey, 2020

 

‘Start Again’ is a body of work made with the intensity and multidisciplinary approach that Groobey has become known for. Continuing to explore the androcentric cannon of painting from a feminist, queer perspective, the exhibition features vibrant gestural paintings, performance, and video, where Groobey brings to life the two-dimensional world of her paintings by dressing up as her central character. The video for the exhibition features Groobey wearing a painted costume, and using handmade props, moving to a choreographed routine and self-composed music in front of a painted paper backdrop.

 

Oil paintings, watercolour works and video centre upon one character, a woman (Jina Khayyer, Groobey’s partner and muse) squatting in a field during sunrise and sunset, times of day that naturally symbolise endings and beginnings. Squatting is a primal position, indicating a body of strength and stability. She holds a giant pen in her oversized hands which have grown bigger to help her start to work again. This is her new start, her survival strategy, a way for her to process loss and start again.

Groobey’s work has always centered around personal experiences, with one body of work leading onto the next. ‘Start Again’ was worked on through the pandemic but was heavily influenced by her previous body of work, ‘Assholes of Ambition’, which started in Japan in 2018. The trip sparked a meditative approach to her process. Visits to temples and Buddhist statues brought about motifs that became like mantras in this new series; the symbol of the giant pen inspired by a visit to the temple of Sanjusangendo in Kyoto and the hands that clasp around it reminiscent of the hand gestures of a Buddhist statue. 

 

Groobey references more than imagery alone as inspiration for this show and cites Japanese art historical references from On Kawara to Zen Buddist painters and Ensō drawing as influencers. Her committed making of the work in lock down became a way of surviving or overcoming the day, an almost spiritual practice. As part of this disciplined-creative process, works were completed on the day they began, with swift strokes marking each painting with small differences from the others, repetitively confronting and reacting to our rapidly changing world events. These are works of economy, of stillness and repetition but also works of power and hope.

 

‘Start Again’ is a meditation on our place in the world, a reflection of the character and her creator in a brief but continuous moment in time. In the days devoted to the making of these works we can see the possibility of the future and the opportunity to start again. Groobey offers us strength and enlightenment, windows of promise and a clear path where we can start to question and believe.

These are works of economy, of stillness and repetition but also works of power and hope. ‘Start Again’ is a meditation on our place in the world, a reflection of the character and her creator in a brief but continuous moment in time. In the days devoted to the making of these works we can see the possibility of the future and the opportunity to start again. Groobey offers us strength and enlightenment, windows of promise and a clear path where we can start to question and believe.

-Sim Smith, 2020

Start Again, oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, 2020

Start Again, installation at Sim Smith, 2020

With special thanks to

SIM SMITH

 © 2019 Kate Groobey

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