Daily Art Moment: Elizabeth Malaska

Still Life on War Rug, Elizabeth Malaska, 50 ¼ x 40 ¼ inches, oil, Flashe, charcoal, and graphite on canvas. A vertical rectangular painting of a female figure lying on a rug with her legs raised over her head, balancing a vase on one foot with her arms wrapped around her head. The figure is positioned so the viewer sees her from the front and upside down with her head closest to the bottom of the painting. The leg at left is raised straight into the air and the other is bent with her knee forward, towards the viewer. She balances a long necked, purple vase on this foot. Her arms are positioned over her head and lay on the rug. She is nude from the waist up and wears a light purple skirt with a red lining and red undergarments. Her skin color is creamy white with grey shading. The artist varies the style of brushwork on the figure from smooth and blended to thickly applied with broad strokes. Her face has dark heavy brows, a wide flat mouth, and one undefined eye. She lies on intricately patterned rug with various geometric shapes in taupe, gray, peach, and black. The figure is in a room with a checkerboard tile floor depicted in pale pink and marbled beige, gray, and white. At the rear of the room is a wood panel wall painted in browns with dark lines suggesting wood grain. At right of the wall is a dark doorway and at left is an empty beige bookcase. The walls are pale pink and the ceiling is a grayish beige.

“Elizabeth Malaska has continued her focus in painting with a feminist view exploring the place of the female body. Oftentimes looking to art history and the female form, Malaska nearly always references these moments while contextualizing them through a contemporary lens. Through this way of work, Malaska addresses the gaze, the subject of power and vulnerability, and the body as a changing site that reflects both social and political consequences. In Still Life on War Rug, Malaska’s central figure is taken from the central figure of Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. However, the figure is upside down. Similarly to Picasso’s painting, the woman is distorted and her gaze is directly upon the viewer. A cold, pink hue dominates the banal mid-century interior space and in the foreground; underneath the figure is an Afghan war rug. Though Malaska states that she is conceptually, diametrically opposed to Picasso’s use of the female figure, what is shared here is a sense of confrontation and dislocation of the figure to the space. Often, Malaska’s figures are not whole—they do not line up or meet to create a harmonious body. For the artist, these moments where the lines of the figure do not meet up are the areas that open up a space of vulnerability, for empathy, or even anxiety. In Still Life on War Rug, the figure is forceful, and as she lies on this rug, the entanglement of war takes on the shadow of our longer wars throughout time, such as the violence of sexism, imperialism, or racism. As Malaska notes, ‘Embedding the war rug in a bunker-like yet domestic mid-century space points to the degree to which ongoing war has been and continues to be America’s praxis. As it’s always happening somewhere else, to someone else we can ignore it. But what is repressed does not disappear. Perhaps that is one message of the figure’s precarious and utterly unsustainable position.’”

Grace Kook-Anderson, The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Northwest Art

Elizabeth Malaska (American, born 1978). Still Life on War Rug, 2016. Oil, Flashe, charcoal, and graphite on canvas. Museum Purchase: Funds provided by the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Endowment for Northwest Art, 2017.104.1 © Elizabeth Malaska

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