Essay by Ken Pratt written for the SUGAR & SPICE exhibition at VEGAS Gallery in London in 2007.
The Dutch painter Karin Bos fixes her artistic gaze on girlhood and adolescence. In her paintings, she taps into a kind of reality that is often written out of the official versions whether they be the critical feminist view of young girls as victims of social conditioning or the protests of compliant women that they are, indeed, feminine and ladylike.
In her vision, we are confronted with aggressive tomboyish moments in girls who appear to be conforming to the dress codes of sexy teenagers or the ugly troll-like temper of infants that have been made up for a traditional portrait.
In Bos’ work, the political relates far more to the Netherlandish painting tradition of trying to capture a moment of observed “truthfulness” than it does to received feminist doctrine or critique. The feminism here is largely about giving visibility to what, although we all know about it from listening in on girl’s conversations is airbrushed out of the magazine representations or historically painted out of the depictions of women. This is not the confrontational imagery of the “real” female body in opposition to the idealized media representations. It is instead, the presentation of “real” female behaviour that is removed from representations. These are teenage girls that spit in the street and fart in public; little girls that might readily bite your hand rather than say cute things in wispy little voices. Or, they may simply be girls -unselfconsciously and secretly observed- getting on with pretty traditional “female” activities such as in a painting of girls practicing ballet on a roof top.
In effect, taken as a whole, Bos appears to appealing for a holistic view of female behaviour, neither editing out the things that challenge nor reinforce the stereotype, perhaps with a fascination about how, exactly, girls make the transition through girlhood to young womanhood negotiating the full gamut of social and biological factors.
She does not, however, do so in a way that seems documentary. On the contrary, the painting is not naturalistic and makes use of a number of intuitive and humourous devices that bring a surrealist sensibility at times but also act to focus the viewer’s attention on what she has observed as a kind of “truthful” moment. In “Happy Hunting”, for example, her two trendy chicks, armed with guns and wearing antlers –almost in a parody of the traditional Playboy “bunnygirl”- are at once nubile prey for hunters but, most certainly, simultaneously far more dangerous than Bambi. The work stands as a good example of the discussion that seems to be at the heart of Bos’ practice: this is not the angry cry of protest at the bad treatment of young women at the hands of patriarchal structures but a humourous recognition that young women, even if they have moments of uncertainty, actually have robust strategies for dealing with the contemporary world.
|Karin Bos, Happy hunting, mixed media on paper, 56 x 76 cm, 2006|