Genieve Figgis: 18th Century Art through a Post-Modern Lens

Irish painter Genieve Figgis paints familiar 18th century, Rococo-style scenes, but gives them a dark twist, making them distinctly modern and unique. She reinterprets the stylized and bejeweled figures from Fragonard, Gainsborough and Zoffany paintings, as dead-eyed figures staring blankly at the viewer. It’s not just her incredibly unique rendering of these antique paintings that is so unique and modern, but it’s also the way she has quickly made a name for herself–using social media.

Figgis got her start on Twitter, posting pictures of her paintings, which she completes with great speed–and those soon caught the eye of well-known artist, Richard Prince. She was soon catapulted in to the New York art world. Showing at places such as Half Gallery, and the London Art fair and doing a special collaboration with the Metropolitan Opera, Figgis is the the next big painting talent.

The reason why I love her art so much is because she puts together two unlikely styles, she combines Rococo whimsy with the eerie and strange. The unlikely combination produces a painting that is both thought-provoking, interesting, and even humorous. Examples include bee-hived gentle ladies painted as blank ghosts, a rendition of Jesus with Play-Doh like features, and a woman drinking wine out of a bottle while tucked into a decadent Neo-Classical state bed.

The influence of Boucher, Fragonard, and Zoffany is clear in Figgis’s work, but as much as her work is inspired by 18th century art, it is also influenced by contemporary art as well. Her warped faces are reminiscent of 1970s Francis Bacon portraits; and the ghost-like figures remind me of Eva Hesse and Peter Doig. But unlike the Rococo artists Figgis is influenced by, her works are not pure whimsy–rather they are warped, freaky, and even bizarre, making them more relevant in this post-modern world. Her paintings are more representative of the world we live, it is not existing in a purely whimsical and magical one like the scenes painted by Fragonard.

Figgis’s painting technique also contributes to much of the aesthetic of her works. She works her canvas’s rapidly–in acrylic mostly– giving the hastily drawn faces and figures a skeletal-like contour. The eyes are blank, often-times they are just dots of black, which is offset, sometimes, by a big, red toothy smile. The void stare and the enthusiastic smiles give the figures a hollow, albeit soul-less look that contributes to the overall macabre of the painting. It is through these nuanced techniques that Figgis achieves her signature style, and makes even the most mundane scene, ie- a woman lying in bed, a mixture of funny satire and poignantly real depictions of life.

Figgis’s morbid scenes and grotesque depictions of 18th century high-society are inspiring in an unexpected way. Her talent is wholly unique and unmatched by any other young artist right now, in my opinion, and her work deserves to be more widely known. I hope this post turns you on to Figgis’s work, she is one of my favorite artists!

After Fragonard’s ‘The Swing’

Pictures via Pinterest, all by Genieve Figgis

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