Critics’ Picks

Sigrid Holmwood, Rasphuis, 2017, Maya blue, ochre, aliaga, ink, and gesso on mordant-printed calico, dyed with madder, logwood, and cochineal on board, 48 x 61".

London

Sigrid Holmwood

Annely Juda Fine Art
23 Dering Street 4th Floor
May 24 - July 8

Sigrid Holmwood’s three rules for reinventing painting come from the Dark Ages: produce your own pigments, paint peasants, and paint like a peasant. She is the insurgent serf, even performing dressed like the characters in her paintings. As in works such as Peasants fighting with scythes (all works cited, 2017), these precapitalist scenes of bulbous-nosed, combative women resemble the roughly crafted depictions on medieval tiles and manuscripts. Initially, they do indeed look a bit revolting. Thick, brushy outlines sketch in the chunky figures and isometric forms that dispense with perspective, while patterned backgrounds of silk-screened cross-hatching emphasize the already flattened space of the paintings.

Her back-to-feudal-basics constitutes a kind of sustainable painting practice, with Holmwood’s weird colors deriving from pigments she cultivates and harvests herself. In Rasphuis, the forgotten color Maya blue, made from the artist’s homegrown woad, is used for the washed-out teal dresses of the imprisoned peasant women, feet chained together, working a two-handed saw through a wooden log. The chalky orange background is mordant-printed with plant-based madder and cochineal made from insects raised on her prickly pear cacti. Holmwood’s research into pigment histories suggests a postcolonial perspective—the Rasphuis was a seventeenth-century Dutch prison in which vagrants were forced to cut wood imported from Central America for the dye industry, which shipped in cochineal from the same region.

On all levels, Holmwood’s tableaux oppose the increasing sophistication of contemporary painting’s technologies, its photogenic marketability, and its embrace of neoliberal entrepreneurship. In combining a barmy pictorial inventiveness with the rejection of a mere thousand years of painting progress, her arcadian ideology has produced a crop of memorably unusual works.