Now that less is going on, so much more is happening in Jessie Makinson’s latest paintings at Roman Road. On entering we are presented with two works. ‘Mmm’ and ‘Mmmm’ are a double act in female body contortion. They serve as delightful entrée to the next room’s canvases and hint towards the possibilities of future works on show.
Four larger paintings in the main gallery space parade a cacophony of art historical references. Equally familiar are the colours of traditional French interiors. Makinson also steps forward to consider the presence of women in art today. If Tracy Emin took Edouard Manet’s courtesan away from her splendorous surrounds and depicted her masturbating among fag packets and used condoms, then Makinson has her actively participating in being publicly viewed. ‘Boo’ could be a stand in for Kim Kardashian – ‘Me Boo Too’, a home made porn film with a mysterious overseer. The repetition of pale paint flecks reminds me of Zeus appearing as gold dust and impregnating the isolated Danae – a tragic story that was a particular favourite of Titian. Yet Makinson’s women don’t seem bothered, let alone gasping in the throws of seduction. The gold has no power except as wallpaper decoration or as a river which flows across and connects the canvases in their mysterious narrative, as ambivalent as it is ambiguous.
The reading of Makinson’s work is further confused by playful, cartoonish mark making sourced from the artist’s drawings. Pastel shapes appear like clouds, faces, cherub wings and ejaculating sperm, possibly even a partial limb reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s operatic fan flicking ‘no no no no no!’ just before she bursts into ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’. In Makinson’s ‘Jiggle’, the fan flits about its recipient as she sits before a plate of Louise Bourgeois-inspired jelly. It is jokingly serious with a nod to Philip Guston’s comic works.
In ‘Olympia’ (1863), Manet replaced the Venus of Orbino’s faithful dog with a menacing cat. Makinson merges woman and beast together, then flattens her like a Henri Matisse cutout caricature. The jungle cat in its oriental bamboo surroundings is described in the press release as playing on ‘cultural appropriation’, perhaps in line with Yinka Shonibare’s complexly multi-national fabrics; a fact of global image production.
When curating Tate St Ives’ ‘The Indiscipline of Painting’ in 2011, painter Daniel Sturgis sourced works connected both to painting’s past and to contemporary contexts. Makinson’s clever compositions follow this thread, most stridently in the last (or first) two paintings. These women appear squashed into the canvas. Manipulating their own bodies. Writhing their yoga contorted limbs so much so that, in ‘Mmm’, an arm looks like an extra leg and her head is barely decipherable. Manet’s ‘Olympia’ crossed her legs; Makinson’s women cross arms, legs and fingers in an attempt to control their own bodies. In a world of selfies, they seem to struggle to be contained within the scale of small screen display. They hint intriguingly at works to come.