‘Gian’ was presented as part of Sarah Hendy’s most recent series Wet Objects exhibited at Chalk Horse.
In a firm move away from the landscape paintings of Waiting for Daybreak which focused on the hours after a near death experience, Sarah Hendy’s Wet Objects explores themes of queerness, isolation, and the gaze in art. Split between incised portraits on ceramic tiles and works painted in Hendy’s iconic and painstaking technique of oil on glass painted back-to-front, we now encounter the other side of isolated trauma: community based reaffirmation, depicted in the artist’s familiar point-of-view style.
The series – centred around portraits of queer identifying individuals and couples, who as subjects fix their gaze upon the viewer, or avert it just outside the picture frame – establishes itself as a contemporary step forward in queer portraiture. Drawing upon the precedence of LGBTQI representation during a global health crisis, Hendy’s work evokes the documentation style of William Yang’s photography in the Sydney gay scene during the HIV epidemic. The paintings further recall early portraiture by David Hockey, where subjects are shown in their domestic settings, while also channelling a boldness similar to the painterly expression of Anthony Cudahy. The intimate ceramic tiles arouse a link between Stephen Benwell’s hand-built sculptural nudes that too convey affecting narratives about masculinity and gender.
Created during the height of the Covid-19 lockdowns in a one bedroom flat, these pieces depict lovers, friends, and acquaintances from across a community of peoples, socially conditioned to the state of marginalisation. By bringing these peoples and their bodies to the forefront, the spectator is forced to engage with the interlocutors depicted: Gay, Lesbian, Trans, Cis, Femme, Masc, and Non-Binary, affirmed under the self-identifying umbrella term ‘Queer.’ As a centuries’ old pejorative insult, synonymous with ‘strange,’ ‘eccentric,’ and, in the twentieth century, ‘gay,’ the term has grown traction since the 1990s as one worthy of reclamation. It is now an all-encompassing word for those that sit outside the heteronormative ideals of gender wanting to push back against the derogatory paradigm and victimhood sometimes thrust upon them.
Wet Objects, plays with the trope of the naked and the nude, usually applied to classical depictions of the female body in oil painting. Where a nude woman averts her gaze to become the object on display, the naked woman returns our gaze and shows ownership of her nudity. The gaze along with the varying states of undress, and the subjectivity of these bodies, compels the viewer to regard the strength and dignity of these subjects. In a playful retaliation to the patriarchal domination of the viewers experience, the work summons values and questions inspired by John Berger’s seminal 1972 text ‘Ways of Seeing,’ They are not naked as they are, they are naked as you see them. But if the artist bestows upon the subject an awareness that they’re being watched, is the desire within the frame, or in front of it? While the world projects an image of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ to which we are all measured, these paintings give back to those who stand up to this projected ideal. Queer bodies – Wet Objects.
– Sarah Hendy: Wet Objects Press Release.