Elena Garrigolas
Saatchi Yates - Mayfair

1st November - 17th December

By Estelle Simpson

Ambiguity has been a prized characteristic of painting. Especially surrealism, connected so intrinsically to mystery. However the bold work on show currently at Saatchi Yates is neither, breaking conventions with the audacity to create a tempting, brilliant display of on-the-nose subject matter, which may leave some viewers bewildered by its unexpected collisions of the human form.

While billed as ‘confronting’ and ‘outlandish’ by Saatchi Yates, fulfilling this with its visceral and freakish imagery, Elena’s works are equally rendered with personal depth as part of a “healing process,” involved in her art making. This highly personal relationship with her visual outputs injects the eccentricity of Elana’s surrealist figuration with a sincerity that gives them a unique power. This is a union of ludicroucy and empowerment.

Elana presents an exploration of female energy, combined with her personal experience of navigating the emotions of being an artist in the spotlight. Bordering on the grotesque in it’s Frankenstein treatment of the human body, expect to see sobbing babies plastered on bum cheeks or a concoction of a woman-cross-cello. The uncanny is achieved through a synergy of confident understanding of realistic figurative form, combined with a playful mash up of bodily parts. This fighting spirit is hugely exciting to see, as the contemporary painter evokes the magic realism of female sovereign’s such as Paula Rego to summon wit and urgency.

The absurd satirical nature of pieces contains darker themes; trauma and pain pulsate within each graphic tableau. Humour is often pulled on as a cathartic tool, to cope with discomfort or defend oneself from twisted realities by reacting lightly to unfortunate circumstances. In the same way, the comic temperament plays its part in these pieces as a thin layer of shielding which mitigates the intensity of the artist’s vulnerability. In this way she takes ownership of her lived experiences, facing the controlling influences of a opressive religious upbringing and schooling on her perception of her body. This ‘bubble’ as she describes it, is something she has been able to liberate herself from through art making as she finally has chance to unmute herself through creative expression. The dark humour the artwork engages in is something which Elana finds personal power in, giving her the chance to have the capability to choose how she responds to the overwhelming experiences of concealment and stifling she has encountered.

Painting is a visual diary for Elena, in which she carefully selects how much is exposed, then lightens this with the interface of hilarity. These works do not wallow in self-pity, presiding the gallery walls with an abrasive backlash in their self-assured vulgarity, demonstrating the strength of a woman who had to retaliate against the suppression of her feelings to freely voice her opinions. Within the pigments throbs a brilliant sense of a grappling for her own identity. Pulling on multiple historical references, these paintings also echo the disturbing imagery of Goya. Yet they dually present a contemporary dialogue with internet meme culture, aware of the significant political and cultural contributions this new media harnesses, Elena gives the intensity of the work a modern relevancy.

Elena communicates themes around motherhood, ageing and beauty, dispensing an electric display investigating the various obstacles found in femininity. In ‘My Milkshake Brings all the Boys to the Farm’, we see her resigned to the fate of objectification, an extremely normalised violence against girls, tackling the stark reality of exploitation women are continuously imposed by. Unable to feel the sense of ‘safety’ often associated with the home, ‘Self Portrait (Snail Woman)’ resonates with the need to have a protective shell to retreat to. It is an image of a the artist attempting to find sanctuary in a hostile world. This has the potential to connect with the desires of people of the same gender who have faced similar adversities and harmful stereotypes. The ability to present her personal experiences in such a bold way opens the work up to wider politics surrounding the female gender. In a world permeated by toxic masculinity, the canvases challenge the patriarchal lens through unsettling scenarios.

This show could elicit laughter or tears - you have to see it!