Shary Boyle: The Forgetting
Exhibition Review by Hannah Hightman
December 3, 2022, Sargent’s Daughters, NY
The Forgetting, Shary Boyle’s first solo New York presentation at Sargent’s Daughters, is a celebration of the feminine grotesque. Boyle uses multimedia forms to challenge gender constructs, the show is delightfully unnerving with comforting elements of whimsy and play merged with the uncanny eeriness of subtle, sinister details.
Boyle’s series, The Grafters, is as layered in physical form as it is in meaning. Using ceramics, textiles, paintings, and drawings to contrast imagination with reality, the series is aptly named. Works like The Florist and The Tailor call to mind the performative nature of femininity. The faces of the figures in these pieces are obscured by an unnerving porcelain element that functions as a sort of mask. The subject of The Florist tends to their floral arrangement, a knife laying on the table in front of them. The viewers are oblivious to their demeanor— is this a violent act or one of softness and delicacy? The feeble, twisted face and their catatonic expression offer no answers but the eyes follow us as we attempt to discern any sort of intention.
The Grafters also explores androgyny. In a similar vein to Boyle’s oeuvre, the form (particularly the ceramic aspect) evokes domestic imagery, but the attitude of the figures suggests otherwise. In The Tailor, the subject wears somewhat masculine attire, but has long hair and stands against a red background, a pair of scissors in hand. The body language here is all poise and power– a #girlboss in her element. The blank white face betrays this sense of confidence and falls into the uncanny valley, almost human but not quite– perhaps a statement on how alienating corporate feminism can be. Conversely, Father depicts a masculine figure participating in a traditionally feminine activity. Like many of the other Grafters, Father wears an expressionless mask, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Although his face seems nonchalant, his position is that of a caretaker– he wears warm colors and cradles vibrant violet blooms in his arms. Boyle blurs these juxtapositions between “masculine” and “feminine,” investigating the often contradictory facets that compose our identity.
Grafters, Father wears an expressionless mask, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Although his face seems nonchalant, his position is that of a caretaker– he wears warm colors and cradles vibrant violet blooms in his arms. Boyle blurs these juxtapositions between “masculine” and “feminine,” investigating the often contradictory facets that compose our identity.
But perhaps the most impactful works included in the presentation are Boyle’s sculptures. The titular piece, The Forgetting, provides a satisfying summation of Boyle’s sensibilities. A disembodied hand elegantly emerges from pottery, holding a joint with gold-tipped nails and daring the viewer to question its power, rising from a mysterious underworld to greet us with indifference, or even contempt. Feminine rage, another crucial component of Boyle’s work, is on full display in this exhibition. It is best exemplified (predictably) in Rage. Although many of Boyle’s subjects may be contradicting their emotional states, the figure in Rage is unmistakably angry– holding a torch, every fiber of her being seems to throb with a fiery bitterness. In contrast, Justice, a woman balancing a snail in one hand and a moon-like shape in the other. She does not seem in the least frightened or apprehensive about her position as arbiter– instead she wears a restful expression and gives the viewer a reassuring wink.
The Forgetting taps into the divine feminine, simultaneously using and subverting the many tropes associated with femininity. I am reminded of the films “Eyes Without A Face” and “The Skin I Live In”, both of which feature female characters who have facial disfigurements and deal with the importance of conventional beauty to our concept of femininity. Boyle is looking towards the past with world-weary eyes, and concurrently is a dissection of our current moment with an indubitable modern perspective.
Images in order of appearance:
Shary Boyle, Crazed vase and blunt, 2022, Acrylic gouache on linen, marbled porcelain, acrylic nails, velvet and pleather trim, glass beads, 24x 18x 3in
Shary Boyle, The Tailor, 2022, Acrylic gouache on linen, stoneware, synthetic hair, buttons, leather trim, 28 x 22 x 2in
Shary Boyle, The Florist, 2022, Acrylic gouache on linen, porcelain, gold lustre, thread, buttons, 32 x 26 x 4in
Shary Boyle, Justice, 2022, Porcelain, underglaze, china paint, glazes, gold lustre, 26.75 x 15 x 16 inches
Shary Boyle, Rage, 2022, Porcelain, underglaze, china paint, glazes, gold lustre, gold chain,13 x 20.5 x 12 in
Shary Boyle, The Forgetting, 2022, Porcelain, underglaze, china paint, glazes, gold lustre, rolling paper, 20.5 x 10 x 10 inches
Shary Boyle “The Forgetting” Installation View. Courtesy of the artist and Sargent’s Daughters.