Critics’ Picks

Henry Taylor, Miss Kelley, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 77 1/2 x 95 1/2".
197 ½ x 243 cm


“Body Language”

Saatchi Gallery
Duke of York's HQ King's Road
November 20–March 23

Like language itself, the bodies in the Saatchi Gallery survey of contemporary figurative art contain ambiguities and multiple meanings that elude easy definition. The bodies painted by Henry Taylor, for instance, are as tough and rough as slang. His subjects shamelessly embrace their physical presences; they’re relaxed within their loosely molded bodies, constructed from Taylor’s broad brushstrokes. His Miss Kelly, 2010, presents a full-figured, middle-aged blond woman lounging on a sofa in a low-cut black dress. Her arm is slung over one side and she seems inviting—open to conversion or congress. The fact that the sofa is set outdoors enhances the sense of easy adventure and receptivity evoked by her self-confident bearing.

In contrast, the lost little figures who meld into luscious settings in Makiko Kudo’s oil paintings seem eager to escape interaction, not invite it. They are childhood explorers, descendants of the Little Prince, and they lose themselves in dreamy introspection atop trees and in algae-covered lakes. The languid young women in Jansson Stegner’s haunting paintings express a similar sensibility: Stegner’s figures have the exaggerated proportions of high-fashion models, but they wear police uniforms and they lounge in natural settings. Dressed as authority figures, but appearing as introspective and sensual as Narcissus, they represent strange yet compelling inconsistencies.

Brookyn-based photographer Tanyth Berkeley’s classically composed portraits also present a world of fluid identities. Ana, one of her subjects, might be transgender: A whisper of five o’clock shadow is visible underneath her heavy foundation, and the most clearly demarcated aspect of her identity is the thick black lipliner extending the perimeter of her glossy pink lipstick. Another subject, photographed at Coney Island, has a sweet smile and neon green and orange contact lenses. Like all of the work in “Body Language,” these depictions embody contradictions and complexities that provide more questions than answers.