The six paintings by George Rouy at Steve Turner are steeped in art history. The British painter’s full-figured subjects evoke the rounded, fleshy forms of Fernando Botero or the streamlined shapes of sculptor Henry Moore. Executed in subtle gradations of one or two colors and stretching to the edges of their rectangular canvases, they nod to the flatness of monochrome painting. Reaching further back, their impossibly twisted and intertwined bodies evoke the sinuous, anatomically incorrect contortions of Jean August Dominique Ingres’ “La Grande Odalisque.”
In addition to these stylistic references, the paintings also turn familiar subjects from Western art history on their heads, charting a certain ambivalence about sex and intimacy in the process.
In “Crushed,” two figures tangle with a swan in a vague blue space. The bodies of all three are so entwined, it is impossible to tell whose limbs are whose. A large arm grips the drooping swan’s neck suggestively — it’s unclear whether the bird is alive or dead. The painting is reminiscent of an oft-depicted Greek myth in which the god Zeus, in the form of a swan, rapes the princess Leda. But this ensemble is a threesome, with apparently lethal consequences for the swan.
“Posing in Our Image” evokes the biblical story of Doubting Thomas. One of Christ’s apostles, Thomas refused to believe his resurrection without first probing his wounds. Rouy’s version instead depicts a woman fingering a slit in her own torso, her doubting arm supported by the hand of another figure whose eyes are closed in blind faith or ecstasy. Here the drama of trust and proof is turned inward in self-exploration.
A more quotidian struggle appears in “Gentle Refusal.” Two figures, again impossibly intertwined in bed, appear engaged in a calm detente. The figure on the left reaches for an embrace in her sleep as the figure on the right, gazing out at the viewer, pushes her head away. Executed in rich shades of red against an electric-blue background, the image captures the dusky miasma of half-conscious desire held in tension with another’s denial.
At the same time that Rouy’s figures seem to blend into one another, they also refuse that intimate merger. They toe the wavering line between self and other, a line whose crossing could mean connection or obliteration.