Curators notes, Ruth Carroll, RHA Curator:
Marlene McCarty’s 2013 exhibition Hard-Keepers was the first European survey of this influential artist since 2003 and comprised of work from two distinct yet related bodies of work made between 2001 and 2012, Great Apes and Murder Girls.
Murder Girls, large scale works on paper meticulously rendered in graphite and ballpoint, depict images of young women who committed crimes, often unspeakable and exceptionally violent patricide and matricide. These images are highly sexualised and often uncomfortable to view; the narratives deliberately displayed away from the image, their stories to be sought out rather than obvious.
Is the committing of the crime transgressive or is it the representation of the dangerous women the more transgressive act? The subjects of these work are not fictional, and perhaps the depiction of the real-life transgressive female is what causes our discomfort; Marcus Harvey’s, Myra Hindley is still on art’s most controversial list almost thirty years since it was made. But these artworks are much much more than the sum of their controversy. These artworks are highly complex in how they use taboo as a starting point, yet shatter our easy assumptions and comforts with a highly beautiful methodology and presentation. Not easy, but nothing good is…these works stayed with me a lot longer than they were in the gallery. And that’s the marker of a great artwork.
We have come to know the girls in Marlene McCarty’s seething, virtually breathing portraits. These kids could well be our neighbours and that’s the frightening part. They are killers, but also mothers and/or daughters, who end up in jail and then just disappear. Let us not forget the bible thumping parents who beat their toddler to death. McCarty has been investigating the most heinous and often inexplicable crimes for years. More recently, the artist-cum-primatologist walked into another jungle to capture a few wild apes. Witness the irresistible chimpanzees saunter through her new drawings with a confidence that seems to come naturally to them. Who are these beasts? And what are they doing in McCarty’s drawings? There’s a touch of Jane Goodall in McCarty’s chimps, drawn in spare pencil with the discipline of a scientist’s attention to detail. Every ripple of flesh and patch of hair looks painstakingly real. But there’s also a bit of Disney in their grins. The chimps look too happy and they are way too close to the humans in their midst. McCarty’s sensual portrait of a young, seminal primatologist, wrapped in the embrace of a hairy primate, reveals the artist’s irrepressible affection for primates. In her peaceable kingdom humans and non-humans have achieved a visible parity. Enjoy this illusion because it is a temporary one. Eventually, we must follow the breadcrumbs and find out the actual stories underpinning the drawings, only briefly obscured by our projections and preconceptions about these amiable creatures.
Extract from catalogue essay, The Hard-Keepers by Elizabeth Hess
A full colour catalogue will accompany this exhibition.