Anastasia Bay (1988) lives and works in Brussels. She studied fine art in Paris under François Boisrond. Using bold shapes and line she explores figurative painting, deploying themes from the classical canon; nudes and still lifes. She's co-foundator of the Brussels exhibitions platform: Clovis XV.
An anatomy of movement
Whether alone or in group compositions, Anastasia Bay’s schematic figures capture the eye. It is not the “disembodied eye” of detached contemplation, but the mind’s eye that joins the cadence of the dancing bodies, the restless divers, boxers and walkers that populate her paintings. A range of different characters fills the canvases with emblematical postures. The boxer, the diver and the fife for example, are recurrent models that keep reappearing, though never fading into sameness. While most characters are closely framed by the canvas, some sneakily cross the line and slip onto the other side. A “floppy leg” connects both parts of a diptych, which pictures a sequence of legs that mingle with each other. The eye moves along as figures start multiplying. Arms and legs overlap in the group arrangements of Bathers, Boxers or Egyptian walk; and bodies seem to exponentially multiply in the layered compositions of works like The Sumos or Sabbath. In addition to intersecting bodies, Anastasia Bay also plays with the figure-ground relationship. The cyclist in Tour de France is eaten up by the blue that surrounds him, and it is the background in Fond Vert that draws out the silhouette of a bather and the stripes of her suit. Figure and ground intertwine with a somewhat disconcerting affinity.
Anastasia Bay draws on a wide range of sources and extracts some of the ‘types’ that run through the history of representation. Among them, we recognize Arlequin wearing his usual chequered costume and a group of dancers who seem to have escaped from Botticelli’s Primavera. The posture of Ingres’ odalisque is remodelled in Reclining woman (Eloïse), which appears at first glance as a close-up of Henri (Le Douanier) Rousseau’s Dream. The attention shifts to Japanese prints in a recent series of paintings that depict chakuhachi players and at the same time hint at the title of Manet’s Le fifre. So the first passage is one of transliteration, in which a set of visual codes is shifted to her own pictorial language. A drawing traced on carbon paper is then copied time and time again until the hand gets used to those lines, until the body has fully memorized those gestures and can apply them onto the surface of the canvas. Thin coats of paint and black pastel give flesh and volume to the bodies, while thicker strokes define the substance of the more opaque backgrounds. The game of transparencies that plays out between the different layers of pastel and paint not only keeps the process visible (including corrections), but also feeds into her rhythmic compositions. As signs of repeated gestures, the lines become traces of movement that open up the paintings to the dimension of time. To use Elisabeth Grosz’s terms, it is a “braided, intertwined” time that Anastasia Bay sets in motion. As Grosz (1) puts it: “There is one and only one time, but there are also numerous times: a duration for each thing or movement, which melds with a global or collective time.” Multiplying layers of visibility, the paintings embody choreographic compositions of lines and colour as a form of bodily inscription that unfolds in time.
The temporal character of the work by no means excludes the artist’s attention to space. The canvas can enclose large-scale bodies, but it can also narrow down its focus to frame specific anatomical features. Eyes can be fierce, crying or ghostly. Anastasia Bay is constantly exploring different ways of treating the relation between the depicted bodies and their material support. She points to the materiality of the canvas when explaining how she applies paint on the back of the painting: “It’s like screen-printing,” she says. As it sinks into the fabric, the watery paint moulds itself into different textures within the painting’s colour field. The artist points to textile work with the intricate patterns of the Samouraï series, but also with all those characters that are oddly wearing nothing but sports socks.
(1) Elisabeth Grosz, ‘Thinking the New: of Futures yet Unthought’, in Becomings: Explorations in Time, Memory, and Futures, ed. Elisabeth Grosz, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 1999, p.17.