Eliza Griffiths


Eliza Griffiths: Interval, Green Interior (2012): Oil on canvas, 36 x 42 inches. Images courtesy the artist.Eliza Griffiths: Interval, Green Interior (2012): Oil on canvas, 36 x 42 inches. Images courtesy the artist.

By James D. Campbell

Eliza Griffiths
FOFA Gallery, Concordia University
September 4 – October 12, 2012

The inflammatory warmth of Eliza Griffiths’ figurative paintings is now matched by a bracing touch of frost in the new abstracts in her most recent exhibition, Love, Alienation and Free Association. Yet the abstracts are painted with the same preternatural fluency. Damn, they’re good. They act as a kind of psychic punctuation. Both figurative and abstract paintings entice us. They both possess a lush palette and genuine aura.

My experience of her work over time has been marked by a sense that she is simulating, even embodying, “racing thoughts” in her figuration. ('Racing thoughts' refer to rapid thought patterns, and are experienced by people with bipolar or anxiety disorder.) Shifts in the painting passages and the edgy notational character of her line drawing have a temporal dimension found in the work of few other painters. Think of Alice Neel, but now with de Kooning-like licks.

Eliza Griffiths: Free space/70’s nostalgia, no. 1 (2012): Oil on canvas, 20 x 27 inches.Eliza Griffiths: Free space/70’s nostalgia, no. 1 (2012): Oil on canvas, 20 x 27 inches.There is something deeply oneiric about her figuration. The implicit sense of movement and flux in her work, communicated by smudging and a staccato-like quality in the paint handling, and her very savvy line drawing, reminds us of episodes where the mind uncontrollably brings up random thoughts and memories, and switches between them with great rapidity, preventing sleep. Griffiths works with emotional ambiguity and psychic events, and her protagonists seem to suffer vicissitudes dire and enigmatic, caught somewhere between mind-bending morphologies of the flesh and immanent anamorphoses of the spirit.

Griffiths’ longstanding preoccupation with the pressures, norms and dark horizons of the social world is still very much in evidence in these paintings. Griffiths is, in this respect, close to her friend and fellow traveler Marion Wagschal, whose work was on exhibition in Montreal at the same time (at Battat Contemporary). They both interrogate the social and the personal with intimacy and incisive critique. Also, both these painters are repletely unafraid. Where Wagschal conjures human darkness and duende, Griffiths invokes Eros and personal, psycho-social-sexual transformation in no holds barred fashion.

Visitors to her studio have known for years that Griffiths also paints marvellous abstracts. The remarkable thing is how seamlessly they segue with the figurative paintings exhibited here. This contributes to a sensation that the narrative and the non-objective are intermeshed at a still-higher level, and that the exhibition is also an environmental installation.

It is also worth noting that, in these new paintings and works on paper, Griffiths achieves a rare fluidity in thought and mark-making that shows her continuing evolution as a creative being. This reads as freedom as she ramps up her project. She has the painting chops and knows it.