Emma Lee Cracknell
I discovered the paintings of Norwich University of the Arts student Emma Lee Cracknell via the above collaboration, Jouissance II, completed with fellow MA student Kristy Campbell. Instantly drawn to the monochrome palette, large scale and square format, I was interested to see to what lengths Cracknell could stretch the medium. The inherent challenge of addressing a large-scale surface with one hue draws attention to other formal qualities such as thickness of the pigment, color gradations, and the way the light hits the surface. Additionally, the work is ostensibly abstracted, but these paintings suggest an underlying sensuality, in some works more ambiguous than in others.
The above image, in Jouissance II, the title of which references the Lacanian meaning of jouissance--best explained as a 'forced choice of enjoyment' and specifically used in terms of sexual orgasm--approaches sensuality, and particularly female sexuality, addressing the intermingling of pain and pleasure. Cracknell's painting suggests a woman on a bed, exposed straight-on in dark, abstracted monochrome -- dare I mention a reminiscence of Courbet's L'Origine du Monde. The presence of the bed's headboard and the absence of another figure, along with Campbell's text, gives the viewer the sense that the act has already occurred. We are left to wonder, along with the words of Campbell's, in addition to the carved-out cavity in the wall behind Cracknell's painting, what to make of the various meanings that arise. This work addresses consent: the distinction between pleasurable, consensual sex, and the pain of rape. The cavity in the wall echoes this emptiness, the rough edges of the opening might reflect such pain. Jouissance II also explores the physical sensation of orgasm--the pain, the pleasure, even emptiness.
A formalist at heart, I love Cracknell's handling of paint as well as her limited palette, which allows the texture, surface and composition to take center stage. She succeeds in relating great depths to seemingly flat surfaces; what appears to be monochrome is in fact a rich combination of hues and a play on the way light interacts with the surface, blacking it out or flattening it or revealing subtle forms. By exploring themes of ambiguous sensuality, dominance, and the denial of information, she is able create 'paintings that subtly dominate, impose and command' both in physical size as well as critical themes.¹ Large scale and bold shapes certainly impose in a space as well as on the viewer.
Emma Lee Cracknell is included in the MA Degree Show at Norwich University of the Arts from 5-10 November, 2014. Check out more information and many more examples of her work at emmaleecracknell.co.uk.