Nocturnalia: Anna Kenneally @ Fredericks & Freiser, NYC

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Fredericks & Freiser, NYC // September 08, 2023 – October 21, 2023

Fredericks & Freiser is pleased to announce an exhibition of new paintings by London-based artist Anna Kenneally, titled Nocturnalia. In this suite of recent paintings, Kenneally explores the contemporary stakes of Impressionism. A movement that foregrounded the formal relationship between painterly gestures and the physical properties of light, Impressionism serves as fertile ground for Kenneally’s experimentations within illumination’s twinned counterpart–the shadows.  Additionally, Kenneally shares Impressionism’s obsession with the captivating woman. The Impressionist courtesan found herself situated in a strange matrix of legal and illegal codes of conduct all governed by the male elite. Kenneally’s paintings fixate similarly on women whose very bodies map complex indices of sex and jealousy with beauty and resolute independence. The courtesan in the 19th century became a figure of modernity, a site wherein power, class, money, and sex commingled in bodily glory–similarly, Kenneally’s women become signifiers of today’s peculiar, perverse contemporaneity.

Situated within the dark underbelly of light’s elucidating power, Kenneally’s scenes are hyper-painterly and bursting with disquieting color. Dramatic shifts in light sources illuminate some details while casting others further into mystery. Kenneally’s paintings are latent with places and figures that are not fully defined or contained by clean linearity, instead reliant upon patches of color to lend coherent form. Signs of play and reverie, messiness and intimacy, dot Kenneally’s canvases, but what resounds is their unmoored and resolute unknowability. While one figure is rendered clearly, the other figures and their activities are not fully legible as real events. Instead, they could be fragments of the protagonist’s imagination, or windows into experiences that through the canvas are thrust forward as core memories, activating the protagonist’s sense of weariness and envy.

Where Impressionists and their actors–male flâneurs–were devoted to capturing their contemporary moment, so too does Kenneally hone in on the rapidly changing ecologies of today. She casts forward Impressionism from the 19th century to 2023: the artist’s new language, a darker, more perverse Impressionism, is haunting and beautiful. Her figures, who have undergone certain painterly morphologies, arrive to Kenneally’s canvases as avatars of contemporary subculture: they are deviant and full of unrest, lonely yet jealous of those other figures who cohabit their space. Her women’s faces are fragmented in splintered mirrors, questioning the veracity of the viewer’s point of view and their sources of information. Familiar moments of Impressionist art history are thrust into the viewer’s contemporary moment: Degas’ ballet dancers become abstracted and incoherent limbs jumbled off to the side; Toulouse-Lautrec’s nauseating greens become even more neon and acidic, conjuring embodied responses to over-indulgence. Where the 19th century painters were more focused on understanding interiority and exteriority from a literal and personal sense, Kenneally excavates the topologies of today’s communal spaces, staging an ongoing conflict between the natural and the artificial.

The painter foregrounds the tumult of extreme weather and seasonal changes brought on by the relentless activity of humans. At once her figures, depicted at odd angles and in subversive poses, seem rooted in their locations while they also dislocate any sense of geographic specificity. Untethered and floating florae are illustrated such that their botanical forms slip into and onto the corporeal. Oftentimes, one woman’s face zooms forward toward the viewer in complete clarity, rendering her companions as illegible background drifters of unruly human forms. Kenneally’s gothic figures, situated in decimated exterior and interior landscapes, become contorted evidence of humans’ warped relationship with nature and artifice.

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