Since the 1980s, Annette Bezor has been one of Australia’s foremost painters. In her current work, she takes images of women from classical painting, contemporary decorative art and popular culture and recreates them as stylised icons to reveal and subvert the power and impact of the originals. In challenging viewers to meet the newly focussed gaze of these women, Bezor exposes the nature of society’s attitudes to women and how they are represented in art and popular culture. She then situates these iconic figures in a surrealistic space to emphasise the roles, identities and emotional states of women generally. Her work is predicated on the assumption that personal identity and roles are, at least in part, culturally determined – we are products of our society. But she also believes that identity, thoughts, feelings, desires and sexuality run deeper than social programming. People are products of both socio-cultural and biological processes.
These processes conflict with each other and create a degree of tension within individuals that depends on their circumstances. In various societies, at various times in history, these competing pressures produce quite different kinds of social constructs. These social constructs are reflected in the art of those societies, and Bezor re-employs that art as an analytical tool to reconsider contemporary mores and values. Bezor uses a range of painting techniques to support her analysis. Her Entanglement series of paintings (c1989-2011) are typically composites of several original and appropriated images located in a contrasting, expressionistic ground. The resulting visual construct becomes a metaphor for the construction of identity.
Entanglement Complicity (2011), for example, clashes images of a Madonna and Child with Japanese Geisha and the classical art nude – three archetypal roles traditionally assigned to women in male-dominated societies – and the figures look as if they are emerging from a maelstrom. Her work can be categorised as postmodern by virtue of her appropriation of imagery and reconsideration of past art, but these strategies are intended to address the representation of women and women’s sexuality as much as the nature or history of art itself. And while the painting techniques she uses question the nature of painting as an art form, they are primarily used to create powerful metaphors.
By Chris Reid, July 2011
Go to www.bezor.com.au for more information