Louise Giovanelli's first exhibition with White Cube opens in London
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Louise Giovanelli's first exhibition with White Cube opens in London
Installation view.

LONDON.- White Cube is presenting an exhibition of new paintings by Louise Giovanelli, her first with the gallery. Taken from the Latin word ‘quasi'’ to mean ‘as if’, the title of the exhibition suggests images that carry the potential for further narratives and multiple ways of seeing.

Giovanelli’s figurative paintings occupy a space somewhere between representation and materiality, exploiting the physical properties of paint to create works that are located in the contemporary yet deeply rooted in the history of the medium. For this exhibition, the artist reflects on new modes of devotion in the modern world and the allure of pop stars, movie actors, TV and theatre shows, creating images that attest to the power of these constructs, in an era when so much of society is disengaged from religious and spiritual belief systems. Drawing on an increasingly image-led culture, her works distil moments of social ritual, while simultaneously exposing the mechanisms at work in myth-making and the constructs of social identity. Often using dramatically cropped or partial imagery, her figurative forms are created from a cloud of delicate marks to suggest the transient or perhaps the transcendental; hazy, blurred images that also make parallels with the digital world. Using a gesso primed canvas which is then painted in multiple layers, their surfaces possess an otherworldly luminescence, as if self-illuminating.

For this exhibition, a new group of works examines the ritual of drinking, the procedures of religious communion and ensuing altered states of consciousness, through the motif of a wine glass. As with much of the artist’s practice, these works connect to moments in the history of art, in particular to Caravaggio’s depictions of Bacchus and to the symbolic role of wine within the tradition of still life painting. Consumer (2022) depicts a woman’s hands cradling a wine glass, the outlines seeming to dissolve into tiny particles of light, in a haze of bright, pointillist dots. In Divinis (2022), a face can be seen behind a glass, each element barely distinguishable from the other, fused together and somewhat distorted, as if we too are looking at the image through the lens of our own upheld glass. Predominantly painted using a single colour range, a rosy hue of red, orange or pink, the surface of the works are characterised by a blanket of light-reflecting gestures; a mesmeric effect that suggest that we are witness to a magical, perhaps spiritual, transfiguration. Drawing attention to the iconography and historical trajectory of the symbolism of wine, Giovanelli connects the quotidian to the spiritual, the banal to the divine, creating modern day religious icons, both dazzling and hypnotic.

Working within an exaggeratedly elongated canvas, the stretched upright format serves to emphasize the totemic nature of the image and the acute sensation of gravity. This is used to effect in several works depicting cascading locks of hair, including the Equator paintings (2022) which feature wigs. In Silo (2022), a single coiled section of hair, is removed from its context and isolated, its purpose becoming ambiguous. The methodology of Giovanelli’s construction of her paintings relates closely to the tropes of social media; to the editing, re-contextualisation and manipulation of images in new and different ways, and in this way is both familiar to her audience while also making her subject distinctly unfamiliar.

The exploration of the upright format is further developed in two paintings which depict a woman’s cropped torso and long legs, wearing a shimmering, sequined dress and presented in extreme close-up. A portrait of Mariah Carey, the work reflects on the transference of devotion to such pop cultural figures; how this new focus suggests an inherent capacity for belief, offering a creative potential for participation and engagement, a way to reinvest life with value and meaning. Similarly, the new painting Altar investigates the lure of iconic horror, featuring a still from the film Carrie in a palette of lurid, artificial colours. Depicting a moment of terror, it provides a companion piece to Giovanelli’s earlier work Auto-da-fé (2021), which shows a scene of jubilation, just before the horror. Here, the stretched format accentuates the trajectory of the blood running down the woman’s face, while the garish, bright colours are in stark contrast: evocative of nightclubs, strobe lighting, performances and the spectacle of something artificial, unreal and manmade.

Themes of performance are also evoked in paintings of curtains, a motif that the artist has frequently returned to throughout her practice. Their frontal depiction, suggesting a denial of painting’s three-dimensional space, is split down the middle to break the continuum of the mesmeric image, part of an ongoing exploration of painting’s relationship to the two dimensional plane. A large-scale triptych featuring green curtains and a diptych presenting a pair of shimmering, gold foil drapes offer the potential for revelation and surprise, huge, dazzling abstract panels of colour that appears to catch and reflect the surrounding light. Among the largest works in this series so far, they act like backdrops for the devotional iconography in the show.

Louise Giovanelli (b. 1993, London) lives and works in Manchester, UK. She studied at Städelschule, Frankfurt (2018–20) under the tutelage of Amy Sillman, having received her BA from the Manchester School of Art, UK, in 2015. Solo exhibitions of her work have been held at Manchester Art Gallery, UK (2019); Workplace Foundation, Gateshead, UK (2019); Warrington Museum and Art Gallery, UK (2018); The Grundy Gallery, Blackpool, UK (2016). Giovanelli’s work has been featured in group exhibitions that include; Hayward Gallery, London (2021); AkzoNobel Art Foundation, Amsterdam (2021); and The Art House, Worcester, UK (2019).

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