Gaudel de Stampa, Paris, France
‘Febermalerier’, Ida Ekblad’s first solo show in Paris, is something of a departure for the young artist. Instead of satirical appropriations of American youth and gangster cultures (an example of which, Untitled (M), 2008, is in the New Museum’s current ‘Younger than Jesus’ survey), Ekblad offers seven densely expressionistic oil paintings, three colourful welded metal sculptures and a poem. There is a whiff of northern romanticism to the exhibition: the paintings are reminiscent of Asger Jorn, and the poem Ekblad penned in place of a press release, Feberdikt (2009), takes its title from Knut Hamsun. And yet one registers no disjunction from her earlier practice - even though on paper one probably should.
The largest, most obviously (or apparently) heroic painting, Hyberborea (2009), the title of which comes from a 1983 Tangerine Dream album, is more than eight feet across and presents a range of expressionist gestures, from stains and scratches to various loops and knots, and occasional patches of thicker, built-up paint. The colour is acidic but lovely. There are a lot of blues, with browns and near-blacks punctuated by coruscating yellows, whites, oranges and greens. Ekblad has left a significant amount of the unprimed canvas showing, especially along the edges, which re-asserts the figure-ground relationship, intensifying the colour by providing a tonal background, against which it explodes.
Of particular interest is the way aspects of Hyberborea are reiterated, and frequently modulated, throughout the exhibition. There is, for example, a recurring linear element, a looping, twisting line that gropes or knots itself throughout the picture. This mode of drawing is repeated, in three dimensions, in each of the three sculptures, which have been assembled from scraps of furniture. Note also the careful installation of the sculptures: Sham King, King of Sham (2009), the title of which references Jean-Paul Sartre’s description of Jean Genet, rests on the gallery floor, almost like an accident, or found detritus; Charlatan (2009) is mounted on two wooden planks, seeming to be rather more traditional, or ‘presented’; Bring this modern classic into your home (2009) hangs from the ceiling. Each sculptural effort, however lyrical or unique, is at the same time a grammatical unit in an exhibition-wide investigation called ‘sculpture’.
The painting When she was hit by spacejunk (2009) again isolates this linear motif, in this case in blue against a black ground. The line here is faster and lighter. The arabesque is at once rather feminine - lunar, undersea, gliding - and also very clearly phallic. Ekblad picks up on this phallic aspect, and perhaps the macho heroics of expressionist painting more generally, in Messthetics (2009; this title comes from semantic poet Stefan Themerson). The unframed, unstretched canvas features only one gesture, an echo of the formal-erotic frenzies of Jackson Pollock, or Duchamp’s Paysage Fautif (1946), or Warhol’s piss- and oxidation-paintings from the ‘70s: splattered drops of white paint against a dark ground.
Why, though, does Ekblad’s expressionism seem so much of a piece with her previous graffiti-vandal detourné, and in no way mannered or contrived? Maybe because, in spite of its built-in irony, Ekblad’s practice is at bottom always generative, affirmative, in the full, hard sense of the word: regardless of what she touches, what mode she adopts, one feels that Ekblad aims to say yes, ultimately - to cross beyond negation. In Feberdikt she posits a mantra: ‘décorer – poser – changer – brancher – rempalcer – assembler.’ Mere criticality does not feature in Ekblad’s tool-kit. Art is synonymous with superabundance. While Ekblad is not alone in this understanding, it is not every day that one comes across so expansive a talent, and so apparently unacquainted with slyness or revenge.
Added by Arlyne,
I was googling ‘Ekblad’, trying to learn something about the artist, and came across David Lewis’ text. Some sentences read like wine lables. I’m especially baffled by the last paragraph. If indeed an artist says ‘Yes’ to everything she touches, this might cancel out the irony.