Scopophilia Press Release
SCOPOPHILIA | Sarah Muirhead
4th October – 4th November 2017 Leyden Gallery
In her current series of work titled SCOPOPHILIA, Sarah Muirhead explores the subject of both a beholding gaze and the corporeal process of painting.
Following her previous sell-out 2015 show Bonded at Leyden Gallery, these new paintings are exhibited for the first time in Muirhead’s eagerly anticipated second solo exhibition. For over a year the artist Sarah Muirhead has been working on a collection of images of people she knows, many of whom are idealized or adored. In doing so she is visually exploring the notion of fetishisation of people we adore or lust after. This adoration of the other in our visual spaces of culture exist within the realms of fetishism, where looking and being looked at play a crucial role. Viewed through a psychoanalyic lens, Muirhead’s paintings are said to focus on depictions of professional extroverts; often performers, who offer an expanded creative sight/site by which to illustrate the feelings and desires of an introvert, namely the artist.
Each subject appears realistic, touchable and tangible but their incarnation is unreal, unreachable. Sarah Muirhead
This idealised subject at once appears frozen, as if a beautiful mirage, and yet is also physical and bodily; presented as an objectified, even dehumanised icon, and as such revisits and reconfigures an ancient visual terrain besieged with tormented and beatified religious icons and the love they engendered. The new series of paintings in Scopophilia represent the artist’s attempt to paint and draw her own voyeuristic tendencies, without reducing them as records and celebrations of beautiful friends who represent different subcultures, creative movements and alternative expressions of self.
This latest work is part of a long-standing practice and a wider meditation on the representation of gender and sexuality. It takes stock and examines the concept of a perfect glass wall between us and the people we observe in detail. As Muirhead says:
I want there to be a glimmer of the real person being objectified, idealised or fetishised. The representational side of the work should still be a kind of documentation of people under my spotlight.
Scopophilia as the morbid urge to gaze, suggests both pleasure and compulsion. The series of paintings are also a meditation about gender, sexuality and self. The subject is in this case aware they are being looked at and Muirhead is interested in the silent dynamic between the two sides. Since her first encounter with the word Scopophilia, in one of her favourite films Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960), Muirhead has been fascinated by different people’s own subjective interpretation of the word, whether they moralise, recoil or sympathise with the notion of the morbid urge to gaze. Whilst exploring the juxtaposition between the sexually charged nature of figurative art and the fixed artistic canon which dictates what is and is not deemed acceptable subject matter, Muirhead's work highlights and energises parts of the body which are not traditionally sexualised and plays with the notion of the dominant and submissive roles taken on by the subject and their viewer. The gaze of the subject invites the viewer's own gaze to linger, creating an ambiguity in this power dynamic. In her work she attempts to challenge the accepted perceptions of male and female bodies inherited from mass media and classical art alike.
About Sarah Muirhead
Born in Glasgow, Sarah Muirhead graduated from Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) in 2009. Muirhead was nominated as one of '10 New Sensations' by a panel including Kirsty Wark. Her portrait of the scientist Anne-Marie Imafidon was commissioned by Oxford University for their permanent collection as part of their recent Diversifying Portraiture initiative that aims to broaden the range of people represented at the University. This is Muirhead's second solo show following the success of her sell-out exhibition at Leyden Gallery in 2015.
As part of the programme to accompany the exhibition we welcome you to the gallery events:
Wednesday 11th October from 7 – 8.30 pm A panel discussion on the intersection of artistic practice, psychoanalysis and visual theory on the topic of scopophilia and voyeurism. With Rubyyy Jones, queer performance activist, Anna McNay, arts journalist and Adriana Cerne, curator of Scopophilia and director of Leyden Gallery, in conversation with artist Sarah Muirhead.
Peeping Tom directed by Michael Powell (1960)
Friday 13th October 7.30 – 9.30 pm
In association with Sarah Muirhead's exhibition SCOPOPHILIA we are staging a film screening of Michael Powell's psychological thriller-horror, the film which sparked Sarah Muirhead's interest in voyeurism and scopophilia.