From the 31st of March to the 5th of April the Cynthia Corbett Gallery will host the first UK solo show of original works by artist Deborah Azzopardi. The show dedicated to the British alter-ego of famous overseas pop-artist Roy Lichtenstein will include more than 20 works realised over the past ten years.
The artist is renowned for her comic book style paintings that mostly see a woman character as protagonist. Azzopardi’s production, which owes a lot to the pop-art of the 60s, is highly appealing to the public due to the captivating and flirtatious nature of the images and subjects represented. If like Lichtenstein the artist relies on the language of the comic strip, she distances from her predecessor – and from traditional pop-art production – for different reasons. Like the American artist she chooses Mondrian-like primer colours; differently from him, she avoids investigating or emulating printing techniques or a “divisionist” method of representation. In addition, in contrast to other pop-art precedents which clearly quote and extract fragments from the real (like name of brands or signs) her reference to the everyday life is translated in pure storytelling, photographing moments and details of an ongoing narration. The protagonist can be anybody; the paintings are highly accessible and evoke a familiar feeling of “I have seen this movie before” or “that looks just like me!”
Watching paintings, like the recent The great escape (2014) or Chance (2012), other than easily identifying ourselves with the main female character, we want to know more about what is happening to her. The voyeuristic drive that the paintings elicit in the viewer is impressive. In a seductive mechanism, the artist hypnotises the viewer, feeding him/her only with an intimate shot of the behind-the-scenes story. As curiosity grows, the desire of seeing more increases. Azzopardi says that for inspiration she keeps open-minded and tries “to ‘see’ rather than just look”; she paints what she wants us to see, always withholding the full picture as an erotic foreplay game. As it is common in the pop-art practice, the enlargement of everyday objects to unusual oversize dimensions strip them of their regular function and look, empowering them with added value; a pen becomes a sculpture and an ice cream a monument. Similarly, details of the woman’s body painted by Azzopardi grasp our attention as protagonists of the canvas. We can rarely see the face of the female figure and our attention is brought to her legs, breasts, hands or lips, which ironically represent a stereotyped image of femininity and of the female body, as we can see in paintings like Polished (2010), Lipstick (2010) or Red Gloves (2010). Nevertheless, these fragments evoke and represent the woman’s body better than her whole figure would.
The female character depicted could easily fit a popular TV series such as “Sex and the city”. Rather than constructing an icon or superhero, the artist exposes the fragility and ordinariness of human nature in a way that makes the artist’s a realist, even if playing with the simplified language of a cartoon. Azzopardi’s paintings act as a mirror to the viewer, they reflect him/her; at the same time, translating reality into a prefab cartoon-like story, the images evade the rules of real life – such as bodily imperfections and faded colours – and just as in the A-ha’s video for the song Take on me, they grant us the chance for once to be the stars of a famous comic book or the silver screen.
How does the show contribute to give a different reading of the artist’s production and of pop art in general after more than 50 years of its foundation? Why is her work highly appealing to collectors, critics and the public?