Stolen Space, Old Truman Brewery, London
1 – 18 October 2009
In a year which has seen fewer significant international street artists coming to grace the walls of London’s grittier galleries it is a relief to find a major artist prepared to stage a large scale show. Miss Van is renowned for the coquettish femine figures she calls her dolls or “poupees” and throughout this vast exhibition she doesn’t scrimp with these gorgeous sultry beauties.
Sightings of authentic Miss Van originals are rare on the London streets and thus far, sadly, no sightings of new street Miss Vans have been recorded. This one from Ladbroke Grove goes back a few years, thanks to W10 for the flick.
Lovestain is partly retrospective and partly new 2009 material and is presented within two separate spaces in the same block within the Old Truman Brewery. The new Lovestain material is in the smaller permanent Stolen Space venue.
There seem to be a couple of recently new twists to the Miss Van style. The first development introduces the rather uncertain show title; a collection of images of pious, angelic and saintly females have been modified to look like clowns, each piece called an Inmaculada. Throughout the retrospective, none of the pieces shown are anything other than 100% Miss Van creations whereas a significant portion of the new material works on an existing image from some other source. An IMmaculada is a Spanish Catholic reference to the virgin Mary’s immaculate conception or, in the more literal interpretation of the Spanish devotion, “without stain”. The English prefix IN quite often in English conveys a sense of negative and opposite, think incapable versus capable, so Miss Van seems to be setting up her show to represent the opposite of the immaculate conception, a celebration of physical love. And you thought it referred to something disgusting didn’t you.
Anyone else seeing Gene Simmonds in there? The subversion of religious imagery is taken even further in the bastardisation of a religious relief of Virgin Mary, and in this one the Miss Van-isation becomes almost sinister
The second twist is that Miss Van has taken the circus elements seen in the 2008 series “Still A Little Magic” and morphed her poupees into clowns. Not clowns in gay, cheerful make –em laff mode but the sad eyes behind the smile kind of real-clown.
Obviously a pretty female remain a pretty female no matter what her mood and the most recent Miss Van poupees have been painted with a darker and meaner disposition yet without losing that femme fatale appeal. The lips are smeared in thick clown make-up a la Robert Smith but the puckering has collapsed and distorted into a snarl. Like the aloof but beautiful Goths you couldn’t approach at school, you can take one of these a beauty like this home but you know she’ll be a silent ice maiden, she’ll sniff at your interior decor, she’ll be expensive and she won’t get on with your friends but you’ll be her slave for life if you can possess her.
Present but not as prominent in as in previous work are the flaming straw coloured waterfalls of hair. Although mainly tied up in bobs or hidden under hats, the one instance in the new work where the hair is big, floaty and flaming it becomes a major factor in making Lovestain 5 the show-stopping painting it is, a single melancholy masqued pas-joyeuse sits with a fox to her left and a halo of candles but the hair sets a gorgeous golden tone to the painting and provides the contrast for highlighting for the milkiness of the breasts straining the harlequin corset. Whilst at some point the inner perve was bound to emerge, you’ll observe that no link is being made between the candle flame and the wax candle images and any symbolic connection to the show title. None.
The retrospective part of the show picks up Miss Van’s story from 2003 with about 40 paintings on canvas and wood as well as a couple of installations. This larger space has hugely un-forgiving top to bottom windows on two sides and the consequence is that the space is a bit un-forgiving for laying out (even Downey’s street sign sputnik looked pretty lost and awkward in the vast truman brewery pampas)
The earliest female figures are less three dimensional, the hair hasn’t become the yellow abundance of the last few years and eyes are part open, almost suggesting an alluring flutter of the eyelids.
In more recent times, the figures acquire a more solid form, colours take a richer deeper hue, the hair becomes hugely significant and in almost all paintings post 2006 the eyes are closed and smudged. Animals appear in the composition, often conventionally as a companion, occasionally as guardians and even as possibly mythical or fantasy based symbolisms.
The fox makes recurs in many on the later retrospective pieces though there is a period through 2007 where the female figures become inter-twined with skulls of horned beasts, both in the canvasses and on a trio of paintings on leather
With many of the animals, though they look at first glance like either a fem-warriors battle headdress or dead animal stole, there is something sexual about the way the animals cover and embrace the women, so much so that the viewer is invited to speculate that the animals actually symbolise the male of the species.
A significant installation Entering an almost enclosed changing screen under an hanging chandelier draped in flaxen hair, the observer is surrounded by voluptuous semi naked long haired beauties each bearing a single candle, their eyes downcast, they watch over the observer. It is impossible for a man to pick fault with this.
A retrospective involves dicing with fortune, danger lurks, will people hark back to days when the artist was fresh, vital and bristling, will any particular period be found wanting. No problem with Miss Van though, her style and quality are remarkably consistent and she retains in every painting a subtle but erotically charged appeal. If only she could have painted something on the streets.
Obviously with so much material on display the pictures here are only a fraction of the show, there is a fuller photo set of the new Lovestain material here and there are a lot more pictures of the retrospective part of the show here