BY Genevieve Fox in Reviews | 05 MAY 93
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Issue 10

Laura Godfrey-Issacs

BY Genevieve Fox in Reviews | 05 MAY 93

Slime may coincide with 'Grunge', the latest media catch phrase, but Laura Godfrey-lsaacs' latest exhibition is far dirtier than its sanitised counterpart in current fashion trends. It has more affinity with Grunge Rock and its obsession with bodily fluids, disfigurement, pain and dirt. The titles - variations on a theme of Slime, Scum, Blob, Dirt, Gunk take the viewer by surprise. They are onomatopoeic insults, slang terms designed to hit you straight between the eyes. They confirm the viewer's instinctive response: what looks like a pile of dirt is unceremoniously called Dirt. What looks like the gum in your mouth is called Gum, and so on. Gratified, the viewer is encouraged to study the canvases more closely, enticed by the translucent browns, greens and reds.

Both titles and texture recall the forbidden indulgences of youth and the grim fascination with bodily functions and disgusting substances. Ghoulish pleasure is derived from picking your nose or from calling someone the 'scum of the earth', a 'slime ball', a 'blob'. They are terms of negation stemming from the most basic functions of nature. Words like slime and sludge evoke chthonic nature and previous preoccupations with the female body inevitably suggest themselves. The activities of the female body are not only autonomous, they are mysterious - something to be feared in the same way one would fear an out of control and gigantic B-movie blob.

Much smaller than previous works, these oils on canvas range from a mere 9" x 9" to 30" x 30", with the exception of Slime, which is part of an earlier series of 6' square canvases. This reduction in size heightens the intimacy already encouraged by the popularity of the titles.

It is this immediacy which moves the work on from Pink, produced when Godfrey-lsaacs was Artist in Residence at the Tate Gallery, Liverpool in 1990. A series of twelve vast sugary pink and orange paintings, Pink explored stereotypical representations of the female body. Layers of oil were manipulated to resemble skin and flesh, the surfaces punctured with paint sculpted into three-dimensional nipples and lips and eyes. Despite a proliferation of these recognisable motifs, the effect was deliberately ambiguous.

The paintings seemed, at one level, to celebrate the female body, at another, to mock indulgence in traditional femininity, denoted by the pale pink. Above all, they were making a dig at a male tradition of painting and its representation of the female nude. Recently referred to by one reviewer as 'charming', they just go to show how pretty even feminist discourse can look in pink.

While Godfrey-Isaacs is no longer overtly concerned with representations of the female body, skin-like textures nevertheless continue to predominate. Having explored the relationship between body fluids, natural substances and man-made substances in works such as Cloth, Purple Skin, Rubber and Fluffy (1992), the latest work looks outwards to the environment. The skin-like texture now serves to link the natural world of swamps and bogs, sludge and scum, to bodily functions: excretion, secretion of body fluids, decay and organic growth.

These paintings are suggestive and tactile. Left to react together on the canvas, oil, varnishes and setting agents produce ripples, fissures and bumps. The process is interrupted, meddled with and repeated again and again. Paint literally oozes over the edges of the canvas, pushing paint beyond mere representation until each canvas actually becomes some thing, whether a blob, a brown bubbling bog, or luminous green slime that defies gravity and creeps down the canvas onto the floor.

Amusing and provocative, these paintings use humour to confront the taboo attached to bodily functions and the fear of our time-bomb bodies which threaten to rebel or explode blood, tissue and plasma at any moment. The beige and glutinous Scum, for example, resembles regurgitated porridge. It is disturbingly attractive. As with all these paintings, your first reaction is to dare to touch the revolting surface, half wondering if your finger will be swallowed up by whatever lurks beneath the diaphanous surface. Intrigued by its autonomy, Godfrey-lsaacs explores the possibilities of paint itself as a substitute for figuration as well as its sculptural potential.