Behind large plate glass windows at Sarah Bain Gallery in Anaheim a group of Alyssa Monks' new oil paintings glow with all the verisimilitude--and titillation--of advertising photography. The glass reinforces the slick surface of the oil paintings, but on close inspection the evidence of brushwork is surprising. Monks' exceptional photorealism resolves itself only at a distance in this group of sixteen paintings ranging in size from diminutive 10" x 16" pieces on panel to monumental 54" x 82" works on canvas. Another tension reveals itself in Monks' choice of subject matter. While some of the images are more reminiscent of soft-core pornography than art history’s extensive catalogue of bath paintings, Monks manages to relieve the formulaic situation with glimpses of humor and the mundane. While it was the soiled feet of Manet's Olympia that outraged 19th-century critics, here it is the reality of such private situations that makes them bearable. The scene of the bath suggests seduction, but more often than not the poses are playful rather than sexy. Window, Look, and Soft (2009) each command attention with staring bedroom eyes. Monks, however, distorts the otherwise beautiful faces by pressing them up against the glass; in Will (2009), the model even makes a pig nose on the shower door. In the large-scale (54" x 36") painting Laugh, the subject squeezes her eyes shut and laughs with an open mouth. Her teeth make the image real (especially at this size)—they are not Colgate white, but faintly discolored.
Monks, who is based in New York but was a 2006 Artist in Residence at nearby Fullerton College, also introduces men into this series. But the tension between playful intimacy and voyeurism that rescues the other work from banality is absent in the two small pieces Nod and Fog (both 2009). Their inclusion does, however, portend something interesting still to come in Monks' work: perhaps a move to expand the narratives implied by her lone female protagonists?
Published courtesy of art ltd. ©2010