Natasja Kensmil

Frozen Queen

11 March - 17 April 2010

Michael Stevenson is pleased to announce an exhibition of recent paintings by Natasja Kensmil.

Kensmil's paintings appear as ghostly reflections on the transience of power. She is fascinated by the inextricably entwined nature of hope, fear, pain, craving for power, violence, creation and destruction. Themes of the loneliness and isolation of man linger in her work.

There will be four recent paintings on exhibition that reflect on the life of Queen Elizabeth I. Kensmil uses images from history because she believes the present only exists in relation to the past. As she says, 'The past nourishes the present and shapes present society; historical events write a landscape of meanings.' In her view, history consists of many layers which she seeks to make transparent in her work. She writes:

In the end, a painting must comprise layers of accumulated images, added together to create a new image. By repeatedly painting or drawing away the image, it leaves traces through which a dialogue with the new image arises. It is a process of re-digesting material and ideas. All emotional areas must be diluted by cold analysis. Therefore the paintings become a sort of symbolic struggle. The motionless image must continually move in front of the eye and in the head.

From the collection of old pictures, photographs, postcards and newspapers that litters her studio, she selects certain images because she is 'convinced that there is something hidden [in them]'. This manifests in her paintings in the forms of the intangible spirits and cosmological forces that constellate around her subjects. These galaxies of souls suggest an indivisibility of life and death, past and present, collapsing the constructs of time and space that are fundamental to existence as we know it.

The paintings with Queen Elizabeth I as their central motif effectively serve as counterpoints to historical commissioned portraits of the queen. Whereas the traditional images celebrate power and pomposity, Kensmil's portraits x-ray the anguished inner life and tragedy of her subject. Her imagery sees through the grandiose illusion and lays bare the gore that accompanied the glory -and is replete with strong metaphors for our time. Even though Elizabeth I was one of the great queens of England, she ruled ruthlessly to retain her position. As the artist explains, 'In the portraits I wanted to reflect on the psyche of this queen - full of love, pride and glory, but also terror, disgust, incomprehension, loss and violence.'

Even though Kensmil's style and subject matter are unequivocally rich in references to European painting, her imagery has a distinct sensibility that sets it apart from this tradition. This could be related to her Surinamese parentage and that culture's imagery and cosmology. She explains:

In the domain of my ancestors, nature is inhabited by dark and light creatures. Inanimate objects are considered to be living and to have a soul just like people, animals and insects. The belief in spirits and demons is almost universal. They evoke a hallucinating world, born of subterranean thoughts, and speak of man's deeply rooted fear of darkness, and of unknown nature.

Kensmil was born in Amsterdam in 1973 and continues to live and work there. She studied at De Ateliers from 1996 to 1998 and her work has been included in many exhibitions in the Netherlands. She has had two recent solo exhibitions at Galerie Paul Andriesse in Amsterdam.

Kensmil exhibits concurrently with Ângela Ferreira and, as part of the FOREX series, Walid Raad.

The exhibition opens on Thursday 11 March, 6 - 8pm. The gallery is open from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and Saturday from 10am to 1pm.

Works courtesy of Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam.