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'Odette' by Larissa Lockshin at Melanie Flood Projects, Portland

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The ideological construction of an absolute category, woman has been effaced and this regime of representation has naturalized woman as image, beautiful to look at, defined by her looks. This is best exemplified in those twentieth century photographic images manufactured to sell the commodities...by which the supposed nature of our sex can be attained by donning the “mask of beauty”.

— Woman as Sign by Griselda Pollock 1988

In her exhibition Odette, titled after the leading role from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Canadian-born artist Larissa Lockshin borrows from Edgar Degas, plucking ballerinas from his famed impressionist paintings of the late 19th century. Yet Lockshin’s drawings of Degas’ dancers are scratched and smeared in oil and soft pastel onto coral pink grounds, colored with energetic marks that fill the composition to its edges with movement even where the dancer’s pose is still. Her ballerinas leap and balance over a black void marked by a rich red curtain across the upper half of the frame—a curtain that in turn becomes the crowd or the glowing spotlights of the stage. From whispered restlessness behind the scenes to rows of matching tutus in formation, Lockshin’s interpretations of the classical subject are loose and frenzied, unshackling the dancers from their strict positions, yet still restrained by her own penciled lines. In contrast to Degas, who imposed a silent image of women to live out an obsession, Lockshin’s dancers are not bound by the idea of women as simply bearers and not makers of meaning.

For Lockshin’s Odette, the ballerinas encompass ideas of youthful ambition, tied to a never-ending search for grace and beauty. The childlike nostalgia of the paintings, emphasized by the warmth of her palette, is also imbued into objects: a toyish replica of her grandfather’s pocket watch is sculpted out of clay and plastic beads, while a glazed ceramic nesting doll decorated with the spots of a ladybug pays homage to the artist’s grandmother. These tchotchke-like sculptures are interspersed among framed paintings throughout the exhibition.

Lockshin's more spare paintings, on champagne-hued silk, mirror the movement of the works on canvas. This smattering of scribbled flowers and heart-shaped butterflies more closely resemble the artist’s principal oeuvre. Lively and looping gestures are tightly wound into tulips and flower petals, matted against the soft sheen of the lustrous fabric. The colors of these semi-abstract works invoke the same muted pastels and bouts of saturated pink that Degas often used to portray his dancers; here, Lockshin’s characteristic tulip shapes become like tulle skirts spinning across the stage.

— Carlin Brown

3.5.19 — 8.6.19

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