Kevin Kavanagh is pleased to present The Glorious Maids of the Charnel House, an exhibition by Alice Maher.
Alice Maher’s recent work represents a return to figuration with renewed passion in a series of nine large drawings. In The Glorious Maids of the Charnel House, she continues her exploration of metamorphosis in the most mutable of all territories, the human body. Her ‘Maids’ stand guard in a visceral universe, where human, animal and vegetal intermingle, co-evolve and overlap in intense, hybrid forms. They glory in their steamy charnel house of corruption and regeneration. They spill, seep, multiply, explore, extrude, propagate and gratify themselves. These enigmatic figures, while plunged in a seemingly malevolent world of perpetual transformation, retain an ethereal calm; serene inhabitants of the artist’s ever generative imagination. Maher’s reference points include classical art history, as well as medical textbooks and her own thirty-year back catalogue of mythopoetic motifs. This new series can be seen as the bracketing of her ‘Thicket’ drawings from 1990, as well as a further development of themes explored in her photographic ‘Portraits’ of 2003, where the natural and the non natural merge, making the female the principal site of language and creativity, and a powerful subjective force in her own world.
The drawings in The Glorious Maids of the Charnel House comprise a spectrum of experience. Extreme ecstasy is evoked alongside curiosity, nonchalance, pain and defiance through the absurd paradoxes of their bodily incarnations. A hybrid creature appears happy to be eviscerated by a priestess, naked but for her tall mitre. Great horns of coral sprout from either side of a tranquil face whose eyes fix the viewer in a classical stare. A figure squats under the burden of a monstrous heart. A body covered entirely with eyes may embody the manifestation of a highly sensitised faculty of awareness.
Human and object are fused, as a musical instrument grows from the back of a maid in her boxer shorts. Within these drawings internal and external worlds overlap and interface, co-exist and self generate. The inner and the outer body unfolds and enfolds simultaneously, like the spiral helix of a snail, and with the same abject corporeality. The synchronisation of internal and external experience is referred to in the writing of Bracha L. Ettinger, as an ‘extimacy’, a word that might be employed to describe these glorious maids, whose body casings cannot contain their burden of excess, but grow and swell, subdivide and mutate, in order to accommodate their physical and metaphysical realities.
Alice Maher is one of Irelands foremost contemporary artists. Her first major solo show was at the Douglas Hyde Gallery in 1994. That same year she represented Ireland at the Sao Paolo Biennale. Maher continued to exhibit consistently in group and solo exhibitions and in 2012 the Irish Museum of Modern Art presented a retrospective of her work, Becoming, which included many iconic works as well as a newly commissioned film and a monograph. Maher is currently showing at EVA International (2016) with a two-screen film, Cassandra’s Necklace (2). Her work is held in many Irish and international collections including the Neuberger Museum, New York, the Hammond Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MoMA, New York, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, the British Museum, London and the Georges Pompidou Centre, Paris.
To read a text written by Suzanne Walsh in response to the exhibition please visit Fallow Media. Suzanne Walsh is an artist, writer and musician currently living and working in Dublin.
You can read a review of The Glorious Maids of the Charnel House here.