There’s tons of ambiguity in Eliza Griffiths’s Social Meets Personal.
ELIZA GRIFFITHS at Katharine Mulherin (1086 Queen West), to October 18. 416-537-8827. Rating: NNNN
There is something clownish in contemporary sexual politics that Eliza Griffiths has exploited to just the right degree in her new painting show, Well Socialized. Groups of men and women frolic, gossip and compete with each other in elaborate social games that echo the boudoir and bon vivant paintings of the French and Dutch masters.
That is, if they weren't sporting rave-worthy outfits cribbed from Jean-Paul Gaultier or the occasional Cyrano de Bergerac nose. Each painting is an attenuated take on the 21st-century mating dance, with its attendant excesses of fashion and vanity.
In Social Meets Personal, three figures teeter on the edge of something that could be revelling or fighting, the sort of ambiguity echoed by their questionable gender, indeterminate setting and green and blue skin. Their faces, though laughing, carry a flicker of jaded apprehension.
These are paintings offered almost as advertising, windows on a lifestyle just edgy enough to be both glamorous and ridiculous. Griffiths puts each viewer into the position of a lone outsider witnessing the intricate social dance of a self-preoccupied elite.
Human sexual folly has always been the best subject of farce, and you could have a good chuckle at what Griffiths lays bare: the unchecked vanity of our age, the surgically polished (and sometimes indistinguishable) mugs of our celebrities and the often ridiculous jockeying for desirability and edge at any cost.
Except that the elements are too unbalanced and rigorously painterly for mere satire. Griffiths's uncomfortably garish colour coupled with her classically rendered figures in their silly outfits make the right kind of disjointed fit. It takes artistic rigour to visually anchor the complex fluttering of these fragile and narcissistic subjects.
It's a weird age, and Griffith's blend of oversaturated colour, subtle kitsch and palpable sexual anxiety does it justice.