Seirian Kitchener, ‘Medium grey’
3 – 26 September 2021
Catalogue essay by Bernadette Klavins.
Through her painting practice, Seirian Kitchener is driven to explore liminal spaces – the transitional spaces between knowing and unknowing, action and inaction, tension and ease. Translating these internal experiences through the medium of oil paint, Medium grey sensitively reveals these states of in-betweenness. Kitchener’s earlier practice examined the passing of time and the tensions held between order and disorder through still life painting, and here she continues to mediate these ideas through figurative self-portraiture.
Over the past eighteen months, Kitchener has created a painterly, abstract environment for her avatar to exist within, as she explores threshold experiences and the ‘underlying tension of self’. A thick fog surrounds a sole introspective figure, as her various states of rest and reprieve are laid tangibly for the viewer. Is the figure enduring, adapting, or succumbing to the surrounding forces?
This body of work germinated before the onset of a global pandemic, however this collective human experience of grappling with the unknown has only reinforced Kitchener’s rumination on solitude, alienation, and ‘grey’ states of existence. Being bound to our domestic spaces for weeks or months on end shifts our experience of time, as routines, rituals and habits are thrown into disorder. Akin to a maze, the painterly fog reflects a dazed psychological state of losing one’s bearings and speaks essentially to the vulnerabilities of the human condition.
Evocative of a dream, Medium grey melds the strange and the ordinary. A symbolic threshold looms in each painting – in the form of fog, water, or a pair of closed eyes – and what lies beneath or beyond is obscured. The poetic titles of each work speak to both the physical and emotional states held within this liminal space. A restless tension emerges as the figure stretches, balances and doubles over, and at times is consumed by the misty void. In Holding still, holding steady and Slightly out of reach, the figure stretches almost uncomfortably close to the boundaries of the canvas – and potentially the edges of her environment. These compositional tensions register on an emotional level.
Kitchener’s use of tone and expression gently offsets the pensive mood. Luminous pink and yellow skin tones radiate against the grey in Wading in up to her neck, as the figure appears placated by the water that immerses her. A quiet playfulness can be read in Viscosity I-III, where a poised hand is coated in a thick, grey liquid, while colour breaks through the scuffed mid-grey background. Glimmers of self-deprecating humour appear in She let her head slump lower and lower, as the avatar squashes her face into the floor as if in tantrum. Subtle contrasts occur across the series, as the figure moves from being small and hunched to stretching elegantly, or as the water shifts from being contained in a vessel to flooding the picture plane. This is evident in the process of painting too, as Kitchener shifts from tight areas of detail to loose brushwork, and strikes a balance between realism and expressive mark-making.
Medium grey speaks to an emotional limbo; the middle grounds between passivity and action, certainty and the unknown. Through developing a painterly language for these unseen experiences, Kitchener invites the viewer to linger in these uncomfortable and vulnerable spaces alongside her.
Opening Event: Friday September 3rd 2021, 6pm