Marina Roy is a Vancouver based artist and writer whose works combine interests in historical book illustration with psychoanalytic theory and word play. Past works include a series of illustrations the artist crafted on the fore-edges of books, which illustrate the books’ titles while making overt sexual puns about their subject matter.
For her exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery, Roy presented an ambitious series of new paintings using glass and mirrors. In these works, abstract ‘blobs’ of paint are poured onto sheet glass; Roy then created representational paintings inspired by 18th and 19th-century illustrational styles on the reverse side of the painted glass. Arranging a mirror behind the glass, the illustration can be glimpsed hovering behind the monochromatic blob. Parallels with Rorschach tests bring to mind and literalize the often sexual nature of suggestion.
Several of the images in the paintings have been used in the accompanying video animation. Using kinetic devices such as bodily emissions or expanding clouds, the relationships between background and foreground are blurred or trade places, operating in much the same way as they do in the mirror painting structures. All of the images are figurative and make reference to landscape traditions, exploiting our abiding interest in nature and human nature.
Marina Roy amasses cultural memories, using historic and vernacular illustration styles, culling directly and loosely from late 18th century masters, early 20th century advertising, children’s books, adult comic strips, popular television and film animations. She uses these sources as a means to look back, but predominantly to represent a current state of remembering—a state that Roy represents like an obsession, as something that seems so immediate, like the unyielding memories of a long distant lover whose sensuous touch, even in its absence, is felt in the pit of the stomach, or as a chill that ripples down the sides of the body. The body remembers, physically translating the past, no longer relying on distinct details, and simply giving way to a familiar unknown. Remembering is physical; the mind’s eye is the body.
In her animation Sleeper Roy presents a libidinal history that defines a specific mode of remembering, simultaneously drawing on and compensating for memory’s inability to remain static, a moment where mind and body move into the unconscious. At first appearance her celluloid animation looks naïve, almost child-like, but the first scene is a direct reference to the Wolfman, one of Freud’s early case studies. Roy imagines and depicts the Wolfman’s unconscious from the drawing made by the Wolfman when he was a child, as reproduced in Freud’s case study. From this starting point, the images grow and change, working within their own weird logic. Sounds enhance and simultaneously contradict the visual imagery, which is continually transforming from the familiar into the grotesque. Characters such as Humpty Dumpty struggle with alligators and leap across harsh landscapes; and a man and woman (maybe Adam and Eve) get sliced apart and devoured by comic book aliens.
A gradual distortion occurs in all memories. Memories are translated. Without the certainty of organized details the past twists and distorts, creating a space where thoughts may wander, producing something new, something unexpected. With her paintings, she has developed a particular method, using a layered system of glass, paint and mirrors, and blending the figurative with the abstract. On the front side of one of the glass layers, Roy drips thick solid blobs of black enamel; using the other side of the glass, within the definition of each of the blotches, she introduces a series of fantastic illustrations. A landscape of animal carcasses, a bikini clad woman inflating a man’s cock with an air pump under a masturbating tree, an idyllic depiction of a flock of swans swimming under a starry sky, a woman reading, a man peeing, dancing aliens, fucking horses, smiling snowmen, sleeping children, only come into view in a mirror’s reflection.
The blotches, like Rorschach’s inkblots, are an expressive spill that through their form tease out the unconscious. Roy uses the blotches to question whether or not form can have an impact on our psyche, testing the very nature of the blob, and ultimately forcing its anamorphic character. At first glance, the black runny blobs dominate visually. With closer and more careful viewing, almost at the moment when you see your own reflection in the final layer of mirror, the figures come into view. The abstract forms literally shift into backdrop settings for a chain of dreamlike scenes.
The illustrations are rendered visible almost by accident. Parts are revealed: a monkey’s head, a child sleeping, a snowy rooftop, a man’s head under a woman’s foot. But just because you’ve discovered the depictions doesn’t mean that they are fully revealed to you. For Roy, it isn’t that simple. She further obscures the illustrations under another layer of glass on which she carefully drips a thin layer of paint in various muted colours (piss yellow, bile green, diarrhea brown). There is frustration in not being able to see clearly. No matter how close or at what angle you peer into the mirror or under the glass, Roy never fully reveals the drawings.
Within formal confines, she creates a control, as if she is not only struggling to suppress these cultural memories, but also wanting them to slip out. The paint blotches act as a release of the unconscious, a space where the mind is free to wonder, but only within the boundaries of its shape and only in what is rendered visible. In a way, Roy’s controls are a test, an adaptation of Rorschach’s popular test, where the viewer is welcome to run in their minds and through their bodies with what she has started. The shared cultural memories are a starting point, and the reflection in the mirror is an overt implication of the viewer in her own memories and interpretations. In never providing a complete view, using the vernacular and implicating the viewer, Roy offers a space for the unconscious to surface, referencing a shared past and allowing it to turn into fantasy. – Jenifer Papararo