Edinburgh-based artist Moyna Flannigan is known for her dark and humorous tableaus that reflect her keen wit. “Stare,” her latest body of work, is currently featured at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow as part of “Generation: 25 Years of Contemporary Scottish Art,” which is on view through November 2, 2014. Here Flannigan discusses her new pieces and the mysterious female figures that occupy her canvases and works on paper.
EVERYTHING BEGINS WITH DRAWING. For me, this is a fundamental stage of exploration, one about looking and taking a position from that. When I begin a new body of work, I draw until I’ve drawn all the drawings I’ve finished before, arriving at an unpremeditated, unpredicted image. These aren’t preparations for specific paintings. They are an independent activity that has more to do with engaging my imagination and critical faculties so that I can then go on to paint.
The real subject of my paintings is space, both physical and psychological. The psychological space in these paintings is associated with film; it’s a mixture of different states—dream, memory, and an imagined reality. It’s a state of being, too, and the women I depict are evolving within it. Space in a painting is not simply an environment for action; it’s a place with formal relationships that have inherent hidden meaning.
I try to resist linear narratives, as there’s an inherent danger of heading toward what Francis Bacon called “illustration.” What you want, he said, is the sensation of something happening without the boredom of its conveyance. The visual language I’ve developed is probably a result of a great fluidity between the form in the painting and the paint itself—a sense of physicality, where the paint is on the move the whole time. I’m also looking for simplicity and unity, where the painting can’t be separated into parts. That includes the way the figures are constructedthere's no hierarchy in the overall structure.
Memory, the passage of time, the effect of experience and how that transfigures the image interests me. Bringing together images from a multitude of reference points is an act I call re-remembering, a reprocessing and reconfiguration in paint. I’ve portrayed the fragmentary nature of memory in the women’s disjointed bodies, their expanded limbs, and their exaggerated forms. Extended in nonnaturalistic poses, they inhabit a familiar space, yet one that is still ambiguous, which contributes to a sense of uncertainty, of something shifting.
Classical themes have resonance at times of crisis: The past is in the present. The archetype Eve, through her banishment, became an independent woman—less idealized, more potent. I alighted on this view early on, after seeing Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden in Florence. These figures were naturalistic—they had movement, expressing their difficult situation through their faces and bodies—which seemed curiously modern. There are so many constructed images of Eve embedded in our culture that they almost seem natural. I feel that I’m trying to present an alternative—one that is complicated, like the world today. The subjects of my work occupy the past and the future at the same time, in a reflection of the circular nature of history.