artist / participant

press release

After fours years of experimental studio practice, Cathy de Monchaux returns with her first show at Fred [London]

This defined period of contemplation followed Cathy de Monchaux’s Turner Prize nomination in 1998 and seventeen years of international exhibitions, publications and talks. The new works unveiled this May at Fred [London] represent a unique moment in de Monchaux’s creative process and symbolise a critical and creative ‘return to the drawing board’.

To describe this period in her career de Monchaux says that she felt compelled to strip her practise down to its bare bones and started from the beginning again. Perhaps the most important element of the choice she made was her confidence in stepping away from the art world to acknowledge her need for private time to re-consider her work and to do so on her own terms.

At Fred [London] we see the results of this process. For de Monchaux, her reinvention has involved questioning every element of her work, from the images and subjects she employs down to the materials and method of manufacture. While there are signature elements in this new work, the most striking difference is the marked reduction of her palette. The reds and golds of earlier works have been reduced, faded and/or covered over by a brilliant layer of matt white gesso, leaving subtle glints and sparkles of the metal, fabric, silk and precious stones underneath. The overall impression this gives if of a diffused glowing cloud, and it is only on close inspection that from amongst these seemingly abstract masses of intensely worked metal wire that we find figurative representations, floating and diving through her sculptures.

Cathy de Monchaux has also reconsidered the hard outlines of her sculptures. Her recent works emerge from walls or float above surfaces, pushing formal boundaries in denial of the function of any fixed point or frame. With her new white world, signature symbols reverberate. In the triptych ‘Lusts, False, Empathy’ de Monchaux has made a series of three embracing couples, couched in three silk-lined leather and fur cartouche that are reminiscent of her earlier works. But in this work the palette is soft and edges are completely defused. The three elements float away from the wall on a cushion or cloud of white woven copper wire, and all of the materials that make up the composite parts have been wilfully obscured into a monochrome palette. The three elements now rise or grow out of the walls, and their positioning serves to heighten the tension and between the figures suspended in their erotic embraces.

On an entirely new theme is a series of battle scenes. Cathy de Monchaux has made images of war, conflict and armed struggle by creating tiny tableaux within perspectival recesses, set into white gessoed mounts. Reminiscent of the experiments with chiaroscuro pioneered by Ucello (1397-1475) in the Italian Renaissance, these works represent human struggle on an intimate scale. For Fred [London] she has created a major new series of these works, which function in dialogue with her larger pieces.

De Monchaux has also made a number of ‘fetish’ idols or figurative statues. The manifestation of these pieces alludes to the primitive shamanistic use of the figure as a magical spell-making device. They are made with avid attention to detail. Up close, these works have a sense of angst and a bleak humour. As in many of de Monchaux’s new works, the initial impact has shifted from bold red bolts of colour to a shimmering white mass. It is only on closer inspection that the artist’s darker intentions become apparent and her trademark gothic, sensual and sexual language is again revealed.

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Cathy de Monchaux