Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Dasha Shishkin, small sharp weapons and a hunk of kick-ass cheese, 2019, acrylic and sanguine on cloth, 29 1⁄2 × 51 1⁄8".

Dasha Shishkin, small sharp weapons and a hunk of kick-ass cheese, 2019, acrylic and sanguine on cloth, 29 1⁄2 × 51 1⁄8".

Dasha Shishkin

L21 Gallery

At the center of Dasha Shishkin’s work is a cast of characters hopelessly entangled, torn apart by desire, or pleasurably relaxed as they let themselves go. Everything is suffused with erotic tension, surging up and undermining systems of order. Shishkin has long been working on a recalibration of painterly figuration, exploring the human and especially the female figure in relation to pictorial space. In staging her characters, she emphasizes the carnal, keeping their bodies, whether filled with lust or just calmly being themselves, close to dissolution in color field structures. The animal self is always central, but it, too, moves within the tension between amorphous clusters of forms and Mannerist exaggeration, leaving space for the grotesque and for the erotic-play instinct while allowing the work to come up against the borders of comics and caricature.

The title of this exhibition, “hoo hoo hoo,” was as childishly playful as it was allusively ambiguous. Unlike some of Shishkin’s earlier, more densely populated compositions, the works on view generally featured only a few cavorting protagonists, or even just one. Nevertheless, the exhibition revealed her seemingly light-handed painting as remarkably dense, characterized by a complex internal dynamism. Take, for example, linnaean taxonomy (all works cited, 2019), which shows a kind of sex scene involving two women. In the foreground on the left, a green, ambiguously gendered, blob-like figure joins them, holding in one hand a basket of books and in the other a single volume, which it calmly slides between the buttocks of the woman in the foreground. She looks back at the perpetrator in surprise, flashing two rows of teeth, between which are two thin, sticklike forms, possibly cigarette holders. Her twisted torso reveals a breast—which itself has an eye, an elongated nipple-nose, and a cigarette holder. The creepy/comic trio and the scene’s backdrop, a room opening onto a street lined with tower blocks, convey the sense of a strangely surreal, lust-driven oneiric scenario.

Even the body parts in Shishkin’s pictures seem have a life of their own. Backs, breasts, buttocks, and heels have eyes; nipples are as long as fingers; noses look like penises. A body contains multitudes, and its protuberances are somatic transmitters that bring the outside world into the “I” of the corporeal self. If linnaean taxonomy pokes fun at the scientific classification invoked in its title, romantic victimhood is another dream-deep painting far from all concepts of order. A bather is submerged in black water up to her breasts, between two green segments of circles—tree crowns, perhaps?—that function visually as theater curtains exposing the bathing woman to view. Within the green on the left is a gray dog sitting on splayed hind paws. Both protagonists smoke. Woman and dog face each other with tension in their gaze.

Shishkin’s images take shape through the development of line, within which she organizes the colors. It begins already with the edges: The unstretched cloth supports are irregularly trimmed, and thus boast distinctive contours. Figures and settings are sketched out on the unprimed fabric with sanguine (a deep-red-brown chalk). On top of it, Shishkin applies a thin layer of acrylic paint in short, staggered brushstrokes. The chalk line shimmers through everywhere. In small sharp weapons and a hunk of kick-ass cheese, the application of paint and line is exceptionally rough and delicate at once. The erotic scene shows a white nude, seen from behind, with a luminescent green partner; the pair are luxuriating in bed, a white leg laid atop a green one. And as if that were starting to get too harmonious, Shishkin has slapped a smiling face onto the back of the head of the woman turned away from us. These pictures have eyes—and they see you looking back at them, a voyeur.

Translated from German by Alexander Scrimgeour.