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Annette Bezor


“The intense colour, the scale and the imagery of Annette Bezor’s paintings create immense visual impact, to which we might even respond viscerally. But more important are her powerful messages about our society and ourselves. Over several years, Bezor has created ‘portraits’ using images of women drawn from high art and contemporary culture to explore a variety of themes including the expression of personality and sexuality, the objectification of women in art and culture, and the positioning of the viewer as voyeur...“

(excerpt from Mirror Face: Annette Bezor by Chris Reid, 2006)

Works chronology  
miscellaneous floggingthe urbanturban itscomplicated  
Annette Bezor, essay by Richard Grayson, 2010

Annette Bezor often presents us with images where women’s eyes - collected, cool and unwavering - stare out from the canvas. As in the cliché of the painted portrait, they make an engagement with our own eyes, and their stare follows us around the room. They don’t blink or recoil, but remain constant. A little challenging. We need only to return the limpid outward stare for a moment to know that the lines of communication between our eyes and their eyes, the implied syntaxes and exchanges, are complicated and deeply charged. In some paintings the gaze is downcast, averted, veiled and demure, but it still remains central to our engagement and experience of the image.

Part of this charge is biological: direct eye to eye contact is pretty much at the abc end of human alphabet of behavior and sexuality - as are gazes deflected and demurred - but on this physical base human culture has loaded layers and layers of reflection and iconography, designed both to magnify and deny the implied communication, and the different ways the female face and female stare has been represented in Western Art tracks the complex cultural constructions and framings of sexuality and power in our culture.

Historically they are representations that have been determined by men. With her quotation of works by others - or by echoing the formats and styles of mainstream representation - Annette Bezor actively positions herself in the viewer’s consciousness as a woman who is making works that depict male representations of women. The simple act of foregrounding this mediation adds considerable complexity to our readings of the paintings, especially as her attitude to the images that she is quoting is not editorialized or narrated in any obvious way. It is left to us to make sense of it, to work out how the artist herself stands in relationship to the agendas and power relationships that she has placed at the center of her work.

One series of paintings feature female faces that have been overlaid by broad bands of bright translucent colour –blues, yellows, bright pinks - that recall silk scarves as well as abstract painting – lines of colour to be found in a Morris Louis maybe. Some of the heads are of non-western faces, faces that in their original representation would have been considered exotic; another is of the artist herself. The bands speak of ideas of beauty and decoration: both at the level of the platonic aspirations of abstract practices and at the day-to-day level dressing up. There is a political charge here as to how absolutes might be constructions and the ways that these might be shaped and used by one group to control another. Such reflections are given additional resonance and charge through the idea of veiling, of a (part) obscuring the gaze (and in turn being ‘protected’ from the gaze of others), which has a strong erotic dimension as evinced in the peek-a-boo games of seduction, but veiling also speaks of fear, of denial, suppression and control, and both are to be found in current debates to do with the scarf and veil. In ‘A little posing’ the artist’s eyes make contact with ours, but from behind floating veils of colour, a strand of blond hair escapes the turban that covers her head. Despite her cool collected gaze we remain uncertain whether she is contained, autonomous, and removing herself from our intrusive stare or whether she is being herself erased and removed by a vortex of beauty and colour.

Richard Grayson

Urban Turbans by Chris Reid, 2009

By creating and remodelling diverse images of women, Bezor examines historical and contemporary constructions of gender, ethnicity and sexuality.

One of her most important devices is the appropriation and transformation of well-known images from sources as diverse as classical painting, popular media and pornography. By creating new portraits from old images, and using heightened tones and the stylising of features to idealise their beauty, she explores the objectification of women in the cultures from which the images are drawn. For example, the figure on the left in Urban Turbans is drawn from the work of Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980), whose own work glamourised sexuality. The central figure is drawn from the widely-known 1950s prints of paintings of Asian women by Vladimir Tretchikoff (1913-2006), and is little changed, emphasising the stylisation characteristic of the original works. The figure on the right is a hybrid figure Bezor has invented. Locating the three contrasting images in the one tableau renders them iconic, and the direct gaze of the contrived figure on the right is haunting.

In Stage Whisper, Bezor identifies a subtle but important mannerism found in fashion and glamour photography, where the model glances back over her shoulder at the camera. As the woman turns abruptly to engage us, her eye contact challenges us erotically. Bezor also uses this device in the Mocha Sunset paintings, and additionally uses a bland title and mirroring to examine the de-personalising impact of the repetition of portrait images. Night Crossing, Hot Crossing also plays on the theme of depersonalisation, rendering the same subject in different tones to create different effects. The erotic power of the image is transformed by the change in paint colouring, and yet the model represented is unchanged. These works recall Andy Warhol's multiple silk-screen prints of celebrities, an idea which Bezor translates into painting to encompass a wider critique of the expression of identity. Primarily, Bezor uses these devices to draw attention to the distinction between the artificial and the natural. These are not in fact mirror images, and there are subtle differences between them. They are also deliberately inaccurate representations of the model, and they emphasise both the mutability of the individual and the inability of any representation to capture the persona accurately and completely.

The Mirror Face paintings address human subjectivity. The 'mirror face' is the facial expression we adopt when we look into a mirror and which we think represents our true selves; but this face is not the face that others see. There is an implied interchangeability between the flower and the persona - they carry similar pictorial weight and stylisation and perhaps suggest that the destiny of the female face is, like a flower, to delight the viewer. The face one presents to the world is, at least partially, a mask. Implicitly, My Mirror Face is a self-portrait.

In Wrong Time, Wrong Place, Bezor continues her exploration of the legacy of mass-produced domestic decorative art, in this case the exotic tropical Eastern beachscape with its romantic but overheated sunset tones. The European figure is out of place in this work and the cultures thus appear incommensurable. She also draws into this work her exploration of cultural expression through dress. In Eighteenth Century Europe, the powdered wig differentiated the nobility and upper classes from the general population and the wig came to symbolise European high culture. Dress styles generally are emblematic of their cultures of origin, and in this exhibition, the wig corresponds to the female variants of the culturally defining turban, subtly questioning the extent and impact of cultural stereotyping.

Bezor's art invites us to project ourselves into the cultural spaces she creates.

Chris Reid
April 2007

Mirror Face, by Chris Reid, 2006

In titling this exhibition Mirror Face, Annette Bezor acknowledges the distance between our own view of ourselves and the view others have of us. The 'mirror face' is the expression we adopt when looking in the mirror, for example, when dressing for work or for an event, and which we tend to believe represents our true selves. But this face is perhaps not the face that others see. The mirror face is emotionally neutral and unperturbed, but our actions away from the mirror reveal our emotional and psychological states.

The intense colour, the scale and the imagery of Annette Bezor's paintings create immense visual impact, to which we might even respond viscerally. But more important are her powerful messages about our society and ourselves. Over several years, Bezor has created 'portraits' using images of women drawn from high art and contemporary culture to explore a variety of themes including the expression of personality and sexuality, the objectification of women in art and culture, and the positioning of the viewer as voyeur. The smooth, unblemished skin of the idealised faces of Bezor's women mocks the superficiality and idealisation characteristic of popular culture and advertising. Our interest in these faces betrays our preoccupation with youthful attractiveness. We live in a world where maturity is rejected in favour of airbrushed beauty, fashion and spectacle. In modifying and re-using images of women by past artists such as Tretchikoff and De Lempicka, Bezor repositions these women--and thus woman generally--in present day society. In previous work, Bezor has made the viewer the subject of scrutiny by turning the women's gaze outward from the canvas, but in this new series, the dynamic has subtly changed. Here we see the women musing introspectively. In Urban Turbans especially, we see this meditative state, one that suggests some inner turmoil beneath the smooth face. Bezor employs her mastery of facial expression to convey complex emotional states and extends her previous investigation of how these iconic characters can manifest personality. We also notice smoke in the background of Urban Turbans, as if issuing from a conflagration that might be about to consume the women, and perhaps us as well. The three women appear assembled as a group, almost in cinematic close-up, but their posture and scaling also seem to suggest they are separate individuals in a triple portrait, denying the possibility of a narrative independent of us and instead inviting us to stand in for them and experience their self-awareness.

This exhibition also contains an entirely different kind of work, Flogging the Rocking Horse, a montage of different kinds of imagery whose selection and juxtaposition create powerful symbolism and establish a dreamscape, with narrative and non-narrative elements. It is as if we are entering the artist's imagination. This work builds on Bezor's Entanglement series, which she has developed throughout the 1990s. In these montages, we see the journey of the artist's self—the model is a proxy for the artist. Further, we're invited to project ourselves into the psychological space Bezor creates. The setting in such works becomes a kind of theatre and there is a script, but this is a script of self-expression rather than a space of media display and objectification.

The physical form of Flogging the Rocking Horse is crucial here. It consists of painted images laid over other painted images, with elements of earlier work showing through the finish. The form is thus a metaphor for the accretion and power of memory, in that we can only see in terms of what we already know, and we can never completely overwrite memory with new experience. But before the new work is laid over the old, the canvas is tied into a bundle and stained, a technique Bezor has used frequently before, suggesting that the painting has undergone a kind of metamorphosis, as does a caterpillar emerging from its cocoon as a butterfly. This painting is in fact a multimedia artwork in that it has an image projected onto it. The image is of fire, possibly cleansing, even cathartic, which hovers over but does not damage the imagery/memory, its sideways direction adding to the surreal quality of the work. The painting's sanded surface suggests that it has aged, though the sanding appears intentionally artificial, so that the composite result is also about the nature and form of painting and about the compression of ideas when they are expressed. The work contains other tricks of various kinds, for example, blue roses, which don't occur in nature and could only be created through genetic modification of the plant. Here is a parallel to artificiality, a suggestion of impurity, unauthenticity, as well as fantasy. The young, attractive protagonist in Flogging the Rocking Horse represents the peak of female sexuality, and yet the sexuality is ultimately a form of self-absorption. She is alone with her fantasies, and thus her autoeroticism expresses and embodies her loneliness. Enacting a one-person play for an audience comprising her own self, she must complete her persona--restore her Freudian lack--through artificial means. The rocking horse, unlike a real horse, cannot take her anywhere and she remains stationary though agitatedly mobile. Ultimately, desire cannot be fulfilled.

Bezor's short-listed 2005 Archibald Prize entry Still posing after all this time (a self-portrait) was executed in the style of the portraits shown here, even including the red turban, and this work provides a bridge between the portraits and Flogging the Rocking Horse. We see the artist questioning her own identity and how it is affected by media representations, as if she is turning her artist's eye back on herself. Formally and conceptually, Bezor's work can be classed as surrealistic and it builds on traditions that date back to the halcyon days of Surrealism in the 1930s in the way it reveals the artist's psychological state. In dissolving the boundary between the subjective and the objective, the experience of the objective is shown itself to be subjective. The great power of Bezor's work here is in drawing the viewer into an engagement with the inner self.

Chris Reid
April 2006

[essays should not be reproduced without permission from the authors]
Born Adelaide, South Australia
Annette Bezor
1974-77 Graduated South Australian School of Art, Adelaide
  Lives and works in Adelaide, South Australia
2010 It's Complicated..., Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
2009 Silent Violent, Harrison Galleries, Sydney
Blush, Florence Lynch Gallery, New York
Speaking Silences, Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne
2008 Annette Bezor, Harrison Galleries, Sydney

Annette Bezor, Turner Galleries, Perth
Urban Turbans, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
Annette Bezor, Florence Lynch Gallery, New York, USA

2006 Mirror Face, Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne
2005 Flogging the rocking horse, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
Witness, Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne
If Looks could Kill, Brian Moore Gallery, Sydney
2003 Annette Bezor, Florence Lynch Gallery, New York, USA
2002 Cloning as ultimate appropriation, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
Blush, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane
2001 Robert Lindsay Gallery, Melbourne
1999 Annette Bezor, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
SurFace Tension, Robert Lindsay Gallery, Melbourne
1997 Blind, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
Builder of Bridges, Robert Lindsay Gallery, Melbourne
1995 Robert Lindsay Gallery, Melbourne
1994 Adelaide Festival Exhibition, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
1993 Luba Bilu Gallery 2, Melbourne
1992 Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
1991 Annette Bezor 1980-1991 a survey, Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, Adelaide
Imago Ignota, Luba Bilu Gallery, Melbourne
1990 Idol Oratory, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Annette Bezor, Luba Bilu Gallery, Melbourne
1989 Hocus Pocus, Luba Bilu Gallery, Melbourne
1988 Beyond the Veil, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Beyond the Veil, Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, Adelaide
1986 Heads Above Water, South Australian School of Art Gallery, Adelaide
Heads Above Water, University of Tasmania, Hobart
Annette Bezor, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
1983 Round Space Gallery, Adelaide
2010 Sulman Prize Exhibition, Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney
2009 Sulman Prize Exhibition, Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney
2008 From Mao to Now, The Armoury, Sydney
Uneasy, Anne and Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, Adelaide
2007 Eye to 'I', Ballarat Art Gallery, VIC
True Portraits, Adelaide Central Gallery, Adelaide
2006 Onetoeightandcounting, SALA Festival exhibition, Light Square Gallery, Adelaide
Snapshot, Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide
Art Taipei, Greenaway Art Gallery stand, Taiwan
2005 Archibald Prize exhibition, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
2004 ARCO 2004, International Art Fair, Greenaway Art Gallery, Madrid, Spain
Annette Bezor and Carolina Antich, Florence Lynch Gallery, New York, USA
2003 A small private eye, Horsham Regional Gallery and touring Australia
2002 Erotica, Metro 5 Gallery, Melbourne
Sulman Prize Exhibition, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
2001 Orbit, University of South Australia Art Museum, Adelaide
2000 Warm Filters, Telstra Adelaide Festival of Arts, Adelaide
New Thinking is Rare‚ Country Arts South Australia touring exhibition
1999 Portia Geach Memorial Award exhibition, Sydney
1998 Adelaide Festival Exhibition, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
ARCO ‘98, International Art Fair, Greenaway Art Gallery, Madrid, Spain
1997 Still life-Still lives‚ Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
1996 ARCO ‘96, International Art Fair, Greenaway Art Gallery, Madrid, Spain
2010 Awarded Fellowship, Arts SA, Adelaide
2006 New Work & international presentation, Arts SA, Adelaide
2004 Short notice grant, Arts SA, Adelaide
2003 International Assistance Grant, Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council
2002 New Work Grant, Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council
2001 Project Grant, Arts SA, Adelaide
1999 Inaugural SALA (South Australian Living Artists) monograph recipient
1998 New Work Grant, Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council
1996 Project Grant, Arts SA, Adelaide
1994 Commission, Parliament of Victoria, Portrait of Joan Kirner, Premier of Victoria, 1990-92
1992 First Prize, The Nude 1992, Sara Weis Award, Heidi Park
1990 Awarded Australia Council Fellowship
1988 Individual Grant from South Australian Department for the Arts, Adelaide
1986 Granted Power Studio, Cite International des Arts, Paris, France
1982 Grant, Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council
Commission, Government of South Australia, two paintings for entrance foyer, Law Courts, Adelaide
1980 Co-winner, Maude Vizard Wholohan Art Prize, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
1977 John Christie Wright Memorial Prize for Life Drawing and Painting
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Michell Endowment
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Artbank, Sydney
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Broken Hill Regional Gallery, New South Wales
I.C.I. Collection
Wollongong Art Gallery, New South Wales
Auckland City Gallery, New Zealand
John Sands Collection
Sam & Minnie Smorgon Collection
Victor & Lottie Smorgan Collection
Tasmanian University Gallery, Hobart
Rockhampton City Gallery
Yarra Collection, Victoria
BHP Billiton Collection