Calavera Talavera. Sylvia Ji. 2012

Sylvia Ji. Calavera Talavera. 2012
Sylvia Ji. Calavera Talavera. 2012

I have long been a fan of Sylvia Ji, her technique and colour palettes are a favourite of mine. Her playful use of planar and dimensional formats make this painting work on so many levels. Ji’s work has been tied closely with sexuality, feminism and beauty. No matter the pose or colour palette Ji’s women are always in control of their body and mind. Her work has a dreamlike appeal, making reference to life and death, with her day of the dead markings and heavy patterning. Her paintings are strong yet fragile. Her figures are painted delicately yet purposefully. This to me makes her an artist I truly feel inspired by.

The female face has mystified many artists over the decades and there is something about a pursed lip that speaks softness, yet vitality. The pursed lips gives the face expression. Without it, the painting would not work. It gives the face thought, purpose and realism. I think that the lips are the key to this painting work. Its slight gesture gives meat to the piece and intrigues the viewer even more. The monochromatic colour palette softens the entire experience and creates a very dreamlike impression for the painting. Blue is a serene hue, and the milkiness of the white, intertwining with the hazy blue adds to this dreamlike state. Highlights and lowlights on the eyes, cheeks and nose, gives dimensionality to a very flat surface.

From a technical standpoint, the artist uses light and dark to create dimensionality. This allows the face to almost protrude from the picture plane. The gentle looping of a line to gesture the boundaries of the face creates rather androgynous facial attributes. The only indication that the face is that of a woman is the pursed lips. This is a very interesting reference. Knocking back the facial structure to just the outline of a skull, can indicate a tension between sex and gender. Androgyny is very relevant to Ji’s work. Her paintings a usually sexually charged in pose and facial expression, but in a way that does not translate to being trashy or phonographic.  When I look at this painting, I also see duality. A face that is constantly slipping between male and female; man and woman. This type of duality makes you question what you are looking at. As it should. The sex of the face becomes irrelevant at this point because the gaze of the eyes hold you.

The full frontal positioning of the face is traditionally viewed as a very tense, or confrontational pose. The eyes engage the viewer from all angles and the viewer cannot avert their eyes. Despite the fact that the eyes are staring at you, the gaze is rather distant. The eyes are not locked onto anything in particular, making the viewer wonder if the person inside is actually there. Ji’s use of the sugar skull markings and its resemblance to day of the dead imagery, makes her figures look absent from their bodies. The ethereal blue glow and markings force the viewer to almost play the role of the soul of the figure, hovering over the body, looking down upon themselves. This technique engages the viewer and makes them part of the narration of the painting; involving the viewer to the story and making them a part of it.

Overall, this painting is very successful. It is thought provoking, inspiring and technically well done. I really like this piece and am very much inspired to use the techniques discussed in my own work. Feel free to check out more of Ji’s paintings on her website.