This month, Clare Rojas’ show We They, We They opened at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, UK. For whatever reason, this hasn’t gotten as much attention as it deserves. It took me a while to warm up to Rojas’ paintings, but now I’m definitely a fan.
Ikon presents the first UK museum exhibition by American artist, Clare Rojas (b. 1976, Ohio, lives and works in San Francisco). Best known for her folk-inspired practice, Rojas uses a wide range of media, including painting, installation and printmaking. Her work is characteristically made by using flat areas of colour betraying her origins as a printmaker, its naïf, homespun style thrown into relief by a knowing subject manner. Thus Rojas challenges, with humour and irony, stereotypical representations of the sexes.
The exhibition at Ikon, comprising much new work, marks a shift in Rojas’ practice. Paintings of empty domestic interiors suggest people have just departed, leaving clues of their identities, subtle revelations of gender and class. In other paintings, images of women are increasingly abstracted and yet retain a deceptive playfulness. Stacked conglomerations of shape, colour and pattern evoke figurative presence – a crescent of hair, a waist of a figure – all rendered in Rojas’ distinctive, flat style. It is as if she is reclaiming tropes from early modernist masters, visual languages that were particularly focused on feminine subjects such as the cubism of Picasso or the surreal biomorphism of Miro.
Rojas’ paintings will form centrepieces in a larger installation that is the entire exhibition, walls of the gallery covered by a patchwork of painted panels akin to a quilt. Some are focused on particular imagery; others are assemblages of colour and pattern. They combine to recall a myriad of references from West Coast modernism, to Latino folk or Native American craft, outsider art and street graffiti.
Ikon’s Tower Room will contain paintings on antique banjos, drawing together Rojas’ musical and literary interests where lyrics describe relationships, sometimes with tenderness, sometimes with pointed humour. Around the time of the exhibition opening there will be a concert in which the artist will perform songs taken from her albums released under the name of her alter-ego Peggy Honeywell.
A publication will accompany the exhibition; a children’s story illustrated with images of new work.
In collaboration with Museum of Craft and Folk Art, San Francisco.
I’ll probably try to make a trip up to Birmingham in the next few weeks. This looks like it could be something really special.
Photos courtesy of Clare Rojas and Ikon