A new generation of Scottish women artists are drawing inspiration from the female nude. On the eve of her ﬁrst show for four years, GWEN HARDIE spoke to Beatrice Colin about the relationship between the
body and the spirit.
Outward 1 by Gwen Hardie: ilardie’s paintings are strange works in which the navel recedes into
a germ of an idea and the body becomes something beautiful, expansive and serene.
n the clatter of a cafe in Soho, Scottish artist Gwen Hardie makes an admission. Charmingly frank. with the lilt of Fife still in her voice. she says that she believes her work is extremely unfashionable. For although Hardie graduated at the same time as the Glasgow Boys. she has spent six years in Berlin and four in London. and is now the first cousin. twice removed from the perceived thrust of contemporary Scottish art. While her peers depict gruff scenes of deprav- ity or chilly Scottishdom. Hardie’s paintings are anything but bleak. ‘There’s not enough positiv- ity in the world,’ she muses over her teacup. ‘Why does so much art have to be negative'?’
The paintings in her new show. ‘Mind and Body’. blaze with light. shimmering like Turneresque landscapes. ﬁlling whole canvases with glowing. polished flesh. But these are not the blue-veined bodies of Lucien Freud. Hardie’s nudes are warm. engulfing atmospheres which transcend the subject and dissolve into meditative abstracts. With one foot in the late 19th century and the other in the New Age. her work is timelessly seductive.
Since she left Edinburgh College of Art in 1985. Hardie has had a stream of shows in places such as the Fruitmarket and the Gallery of Modern Art. She has always been concerned with depicting the female body but her work has
changed dramatically in style over the years moving on from the influences it once displayed which were drawn from a diverse range of predecessors including Henry Moore. Nicki de Saint Phalle and the graffiti of French artist. Jean Dubuffet.
Now she has put away the chicken wire. black and white paint and l()ft-high paper collage Amazons of the past and gone back to concen- trating on detailing areas of the body in oil paint and sculpture. Whereas before she focused on buttocks. hands or heads. she has now gravitated to the supposed centre of the being. the navel and in a smaller degree. the face. Neither sexual nor humorous — mention navel gazing and you will be sharply put straight — a spiritual side has emerged in Hardie’s work. linked to her own interest in Buddhism and meditation.
‘I’m trying to say things in the simplest way possible. and so given the ready made limita- tions of the square of canvas. it’s quite interest- ing to reduce things down to a single point in a larger space. It’s forcing the viewer to slow down and concentrate on less. Less detail can lead to something more. rather than graphically thinking the body means this and the navel means that.’
In the top floor of a gallery in London, the hollows and curves of the navel swell to fill whole canvases. Like vast human landscapes. the tummy button sits in the middle in burning amber. chalk white and hazes of blue. green and purple. They’re strange works in which the navel recedes into a germ of an idea and the body becomes something beautiful. expansive and serene. Although she is keen not to stress the Zen element. it is an integral part of her new work.
‘When I encountered ideas in Buddhism 1 had a renewal of interest in the body because there is this idea that one can achieve integration between the body and the spirit. Instead of this eternal dualistic conflict which we in the West seem to thrive on. which is the body versus the spirit. in Christianity and so on. there is this notion that there is in fact a possibility for integration and this leads to an incredible mobility. It encourages a way of looking at things where you can become very liberated in yourself.’
While this is Gwen Hardie’s first show in four years. the female nude by women artists has been celebrated and hotly debated recently in the high profile season of work. ‘Bad Girls’. at the CCA and in Jenny Saville‘s acclaimed show in London.
‘There are ways of liberation for women. With Jenny Saville it’s very much politically motivated work; she’s seen as working from a position of defence. reclaiming the body from the male gaze.’ Hardie says. ‘That used to be levelled at me too. but it’s not quite true really; men have been cancelling out women. now women can cancel out men. lt’s tit for tat which I don’t think is helpful in the evolution of things.’
Hardie’s art isn’t concerned with shock. the
8 The List I 1—24 March 1994