Not on display
Get in the Car 2019 is a large landscape-format painting in oil, acrylic, spray paint and marker pen on canvas. The composition is dominated by a central figure that presides over two others. Drawing on autobiographical references, the painting relates to universal concerns and themes related to self-identification. The central character is based on a photograph of the artist’s mother, Rita McGurn, in a long double-breasted coat. Deliberately restyled in the painting to allude to an imperial army uniform or jacket, the garment transforms the artist’s mother into a masculine archetypal figure. McGurn’s subjects are often depicted as androgynous; she has explained how their gender can change during the course of the painting process or can remain undefined: ‘I like to see the figures as personifications of thoughts, or as tropes or archetypes. To me, they’re glyphic, signature-like gestures rather than depicting the physical form of a person.’ (Quoted in Art Now: Sleepless, exhibition leaflet, Tate Britain, London 2019.)
McGurn’s painterly style is characterised by a distinctive combination of gestural virtuosity with a throwaway aesthetic. Working directly on unprimed canvases, appreciating their raw quality, McGurn paints in brisk brush strokes using acrylic and oil, in seemingly automated, intuitive gestures. Quickly sketched linear drawings are complemented with washes of colours that bleed into each other in places, underlining the unlaboured aesthetic quality of the work. Such works can be understood as a playful painterly exercise in expressive efficiency and as a subversive response to the traditional understanding of painting as the highest form of art.
McGurn has said that the title of this painting is a phrase her mother would use when commanding her five children on family excursions. Here, it embodies the shift of concerns that occurs with becoming a parent, having new responsibilities but also feeling fortified through building a family: ‘Life becomes the vehicle you’re driving,’ the artist has explained (McGurn, email correspondence with Tate curator Helen Delaney, July 2019).
This painting was the first McGurn created as part of a body of work made specifically for her solo exhibition Sleepless at Tate Britain, London in 2019. The title of the show is a reference to the state of mind she herself was experiencing in the early days of motherhood. The fragmented and overlapping limbs in this and other paintings in the exhibition (On my Tab 2019; Dream and Drunkenness 2019) allude to the deliriously ecstatic sense of being out of one’s own body. The light-headedness and the blur of physical feelings, as well as the sense of empowerment that the central role of motherhood gives, are formally reflected in the overlapping compositional elements of the painting.
Christiana Spens, ‘France-Lise McGurn – Interview’, Studio International, 12 August 2019, https://www.studiointernational.com/index.php/france-lise-mcgurn-interview-sleepless-tate-britain, accessed 10 September 2019.
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