Sophy Naess creates playful and radiant works inspired by sources ranging from Greek myths to vintage looms, to the labels of Dr. Bronner’s pungent and morally uplifting soaps.
The monotypes and editions she produced in 2017 with Marina Ancona of Brooklyn’s 10 Grand Press are in keeping with this offbeat sensibility, bearing titles evocative of places and states of being (Balancing Acts, The House of Mirth), eliciting easy smiles (Boy on a Swing), or producing an occasional bemused “huh?” (The zinc ornament dealer’s latest thermometer).
In many works, lithe figures are arranged in attitudes of action, balance or repose. Some compositions feature swathes of brilliant yellow or moody blue. Others are dappled with casual floral flecks or framed by decorative boundaries. In the Balancing Acts monotypes, the artist began by painting on a smooth plate. An image was pulled, then the ghosts of the figures were reworked with new backgrounds and color overlays. As the series progresses, the original outlines of the figures remain visible, but each impression is lively and new.
Naess’s work bubbles with historical references: Attic vases with Greek acrobats bounding over charging beasts; a scene from Emile Zola’s novel The Masterpiece, where, according to the artist, “the protagonist visits a lawn ornament dealer’s shop littered with urns, vases and statuettes, and finds the proprietor ‘clutching in his hand the latest thing in thermometers, a woman juggler squatting on her heals and balancing the fine glass tube on the end of her nose.’”1 One can also see the legacies of Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s swing; Fernand Léger’s color blocks; M.C. Escher’s tessellations, David Hockney’s illustrations for Grimm’s fairy tales, as well as Henri Matisse’s Fauvist palette, his arabesques and inviting windows. All are plucked from memory like blossoms from a wild garden.
Naess’s work seems to exist contentedly outside contemporary concerns, leaning instead toward a painterly, expressive exuberance. Indeed Matisse’s words seem apt:
Expression to my way of thinking does not consist of the passion mirrored upon a human face or betrayed by a violent gesture. The whole arrangement of my picture is expressive. The place occupied by figures and objects, the empty spaces around them, the proportions, everything plays a part.2
Born in 1982, Naess is a millennial who seems to take a long, lively view of her part in the history of art. She has made several short, humorous films (available on YouTube), and once photographed herself and a friend in the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum clad in sheets of her painted art.3 It’s all part of the fun.
- Artist’s Statement, 10 Grand Press, 2017.
- Henri Matisse, “Notes d’un Peintre” in La Grande Revue (25 Dec 1908); tr. Alfred H. Barr Jr. in Matisse: His Art and His Public (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1951), p119.
- A conversation with the artist in the Archer Hotel blog, “Art Talk: Sophy Naess,” 24 May 2017. https://archerhotel.com/blog/art-talk-sophy-naess/.