In Conversation: Cara Guri
Perception, entropy, subjectivity and the history of Western figurative painting are some of the themes that propel Cara Guri’s practice. Her concealed portraits exist in a careful tension; between what is hidden and what is revealed, between stillness, growth and decay; and between artist, subject and viewer.
Keep reading to learn more about Guri’s artwork in her own words.
How did this exhibition come to be titled “Interstice”? What does that word evoke for you in relation to the works you’ve painted?CG
The work in the exhibition explores the slippery boundary between the seen and unseen, known and unknown, and the line between literal space and psychological space. The paintings are very much about putting some form of barrier, object or intervening space between the viewer and the subject to question the aims and conventions of historical Western figure painting and to alter the traditional dynamic of the gaze. I liked the way the word “Interstice” alluded to this idea of an intervening space that shifts or alters the way a subject is encountered.
Your compositional choices are a bit different than previous work—more angular, more linear. Has working through the composition of these specific paintings produced any interesting challenges for you?CG
I wouldn’t say that there were any particular technical challenges that came up as a result of this, more just a shift in compositional focus and potential. The work definitely became a lot more about the connection between the depicted figures and the spaces they inhabit. I came to think of the architectural spaces as a surface to convey the passage of time through light and shadow as well as a way of reflecting mood and mind space rather than being solely literal. All the spaces partially reference actual spaces, but through colour, shadowing and mirroring came to take on a life of their own. This introduced a new layer for me to play with in the work.
Can you talk about your artwork’s thematic relationship with art history?CG
My work is very much about re-examining and responding to the conventions and symbols of historical Western figure painting in a way that also inevitably disrupts their original meaning and intent. As a woman painter, I have always felt alienated by the idealized representations of women’s bodies created by and for the male gaze that punctuate the history of Western figurative painting. I use my paintings to re-examine the posing and staging of historical figurative painting, question viewership, call attention to the relationship between viewer and subject and represent subjects (frequently myself) that are seen or not seen on their own terms. In some senses, I feel my paintings are about taking back the language of historical painting to create a new narrative and to question and shift the dynamics of viewership.
Your practice has a strong connection with time and observation. How did producing a body of work within the span of the 10-week residency feel for you?CG
My work is largely about spending considerable time with something, about slowly observing it across time and documenting subtle changes and shifts in the subject. The residency did produce some unique challenges for me as a result of the 10-week time span. I ended up starting all the paintings near the beginning of the residency and cycling through them until the end, finishing them all within a week of each other to still have that sustained temporal connection with each one. As a result, I came to see all the individual paintings as very intimately connected with one another and almost as one work.
What is next for your practice?CG
I’m looking forward to producing a new body of work in the coming months, and have already started playing with some new ideas that continue from where my residency left off. I would like to go a bit larger with the paintings and play with the scale relationships between the viewer and the subject more. During my residency, I became very interested in capturing subjects across different temporal moments and combining these shifting observations into one cohesive image, playing with shadows and the merging of different perspectives as a way of talking about the complexity of what it means to see or depict something. I would like to continue to play with this idea of the shifting nature of time and the fusing of different temporal moments and viewpoints in my future work.
See Cara Guri’s Interstice at BAF Gallery until Saturday, October 10.