In her striking portrayals of the tragicomic everyday, Grace Weaver examines the charged social and cultural conditions that underlie self-concept, intimacy, and individual experience. Depicting elastic-limbed figures that collide on street-corners and tumble down steps with an unrelenting air of exuberance, her new body of work contends with what the artist describes as the expectation of "uprightness" and the experience of self-consciousness that come with being a woman in public. In Weaver’s paintings, the body itself becomes scenario: playful, sweeping lines and dense planes of luminous color act as linguistic elements, each directing its own physical weight and affect onto her female subjects.
Weaver is concerned with the art-historical devices of gravity and directionality, carrying within them a redemptive potential to transcend or transgress. Distinctly in contrast to the upright nature of both painting and human bipedality, many of her figures are depicted on their hands and knees—a position that may convey religious devotion, sexual submission, or humiliation. Weaver explains: “falling and being on one’s hands and knees is such a self-aware and self-conscious pose. Sometimes accidental and sometimes performed—and sometimes both—one perceives one’s own appearance, sees oneself as one is being seen. It’s a way to try to force a feeling, whether religious or sexual. It’s also an uncomfortable pose, and as such a way to possibly have discomfort and pleasure coexist.”
Tapping into ideas of up and down, or forward and backward, Weaver manipulates spatial binaries in her work—either complying with their connotations, or distorting them with plays on perspective. The heavy, directional tears within two paintings entitled Crying upwards and Crying downwards convey divergent subtexts of sadness: one figure is ecstatically performative, while the other, according to Weaver, might be performing “what she thinks is sympathetic in a lugubrious way.” The use of these dichotomies is central to the emotional narratives suggested in her work: another painting depicts a crowd crawling up a daunting, central staircase as the female protagonist topples downwards into the picture plane. The sharp pleats of her stylized skirt fan outwards, recalling the teeth of a sawtooth blade and conveying a sense of implicit violence as she is accidentally exposed.
Looking toward influences that range from the torqued perspectives of American Regionalism to the gravity of Piero della Francesca’s paintings and the monumental figuration of Jose Clemente Orozco’s murals, Weaver’s paintings are an exploration of what she terms the “theater of public life.” Within Weaver’s street scenes, the sidewalk serves as a stage upon which interpersonal dynamics and power struggles are played out. In Confrontation, two pedestrians tangle in a head-on collision at a street corner that could be an enthusiastic reunion or a violent altercation. Alienation versus belonging, cruelty versus connection—the pains, pleasures, and anxieties of everyday existence are writ large in this collective space. Weaver playfully explores the contradictions embedded in this social fabric: who has power, who is powerless; who is revealed, and who is hidden from the gaze of the viewer. These scenes allow her to build an audience within the painting, creating a chorality within the picture plane: the cast of characters, like Weaver, are as much subject to performing a strata of social anxieties as they are to wryly observing them.
The paintings on view at James Cohan’s Tribeca location mark Grace Weaver’s return to oil paint from acrylic. Working in this medium allows Weaver to build depth and weight into her colors, imbuing her lines and brushstrokes with robust dimensionality and a seductive tactility. On view concurrently at the gallery’s Lower East Side location are a series of new works on paper by the artist. Drawing is a daily part of Weaver’s practice, allowing her to generate ideas at a rapid rate and tap into feelings of childlike invention. The repetitious nature of this exercise permits her to create without an endpoint in mind, instead allowing the world around her, and her own psychological state, to shape the bodies she depicts. Their satisfying immediacy provides Weaver with a counterbalance to the contemplative process of her paintings, the richly pigmented surfaces of which she builds up over a period of months.