Amber Boardman’s Titlist is a tour de force. Each painting packs a punch and takes you to its own microcosm: a party, a lover’s tryst, the bedroom or bathroom, parental homes, and other frought settings. This is painting as a comedy of manners. Of course fashion and friends and parents are a serious part of our subjecthood and psychological make-up. If it is caricature and social commentary it is within the grand tradition of Honore Daumier and J. J. Grandville, of Alex Katz and Nicole Eisenman.
The smallish, easel scale, and the supplementary text, really puts the lever down on the side of the one panel New Yorker style cartoon. But I think that this should be balanced with the long line of narrative painting in general, and its genre scenes of middle class pretention. I see inventive image making and fantastical grotesque bodies, as well, which for me seem to note a Symbolist or Imagist approach to the fantastical real. It is almost realer than the real because it also shows what lies beneath as well as insightful and well observed surfaces.
In fact there is a varied set of modes used in this work and that is part of the fun. Some of the humour relies on “the funny because its true!” feeling of common feeling and shared human trauma. Others seem provocative and brutally honest, creating a laughter of embarrassed catharsis. Others are witty and sad. It seems a perverse thing to vivisect jokes but the point is the exhibition as a whole is rich in a language of social etiquette, anxiety and trauma we all share. The exhibition approaches love, family and friends with good humour and sensitivity.
There is a solid working over of many contemporary anxieties that frame our identity building. What is the amorphous and blobby relationship we have with our parents? On one hand they are the superego, checking your dye job, in your face and authoritarian. But then there is the other side where we necessarily must make a break from them, sending them to Coventry or bedlam, in an effort to carve out a space for our own identity.
There is the paradox feeling of wanting to fit in social settings while at the same time staying true to your-self. Fascinator Discomfort is such a good summation of this feeling. Even within this one painting you could see realistic representation of high social events (weddings, the racers or the polo). The weird painterliness only adds to the stupidity. Or is it a metaphor for something we feel all the time. We always use fashion to mark our conformity while at the same time insisting on our difference; it is an incredibly tiring act to play. Again is the fashion itself a metaphor for more psychic pains of submission and autonomy in play.
Moments of investiture at graduations, at important milestones in our life, also create impressions of inadequacy and disconnect. Boardman sees acutely, and then paints, moments of these ruptures in our sense of self. They are all moments that we have experienced that include both trauma and excitement. And is there a greater repurposing of our coordinates when we have to remake ourselves in a love match, perhaps Boardman’s favourite theme.
This is a remarkable investigation of our contemporary crises. The work is inventive and incessant. It is as if Boardman directly emotes her inner world onto the canvas as metaphor and monster. It is as if by painting the mini-horrors of the everyday she inoculates herself from them, or in Oprah parlance, “takes ownership of them.”