Curators Notes, Patrick T. Murphy, RHA Director:
On viewing Natasja Kensmil’s paintings with an artist friend, he turned to me and said one word “Courageous”. I can see what he means, for these images challenge our established secular idea of death. In the contemporary world the sense of those that have gone before us is remembered in a way as to what they achieved and how they lived when they were ‘amongst’ us. There is no longer the acceptance that there is a life beyond death. Kensmil evocations of past aristocracy, her deference to our past “tribal” leaders as our ancestors, niggles at the edges of our rationality. Are we sure they are merely historic? Do they have an ethereal presence that we have to actively deny?
Her actual painting is held in a tight tonal range with the incidental use of a colour glaze. They are robust compositions insisting on their own physicality within the space, and they never reduce to mere images they always retaining their claim as painting.
In her “Sleeping Beauties” Kensmil mines 19th century photography’s genre of child deaths. The babies and young children, dressed and swaddled as if just asleep, a parents strategy to redeem their loss by concentrating on the nearest living imitation of death -sleep. Just over a century ago, mourning, spirituality, religion existed in the west alongside rationality and science. Maybe two world wars and increasing education named these practices superstitions and banished them beyond the continent to places in the world where the “primitive” still existed. And is this not another rub of this work, turning an anthropological eye onto our Western practices and pointing out to just how recent our own “primitivism” was, its skin almost still warm…..
Natasja Kensmil is a Dutch born painter of Surinamese extraction. Here for the fist time in Ireland she presents two bodies of work and a suite of new drawings. There is a Creole nature to the work, a mixing of beliefs that is as unsettling as it is engaging. Kensmil appropriates images of deceased European monarchy to build strong, powerful and eerie paintings. From the Romanovs to the Hapsburgs to the Virgin Queen herself, Elizabeth 1st, Kensmil’s monarchs, in the midst of their pomp and splendour, are ravaged by their own mortality. Painted in modulated tones, with thin glazes of colour these are massive physical paintings. Their presence begs the question of death and our relationship with those gone before us. They seem to mock our secular stance and bid a re-welcome to the realm of spirits.
In a second suite of work, entitled Sleeping Beauty Kensmil’s subject is infant mortality. Swaddled and cradled these tiny spirits also challenge our reassured Western optimism when it comes to life and its potential. For Kensmil the past ancestors seemingly are seeking a role in our present.
A full colour catalogue will accompany this exhibition, courtesy of the Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam.