Wild and Whimsical

Superficial beauty

See review in Bangkok Post 12th February, 2010 

 

"Elizabeth Romhild's latest exhibition challenges the quintessence of womanhood largely influenced by men

Bathed in the aura of their creator, the bronze skin statues and oil-coated canvases of Elizabeth Romhild's artworks are alive with the playful spirit of the vivacious artist. A visual sensation of tactual excess, her ''Wild and Whimsical'' exhibition is a triumph of movement and deep, penetrating beauty delving beneath the superficial and into hidden realms.

‘Shanghai Fan’

The title of the show at first glance appears to capture the essence of Romhild's latest work at La Lanta Fine Art gallery, but on further reflection it only partially does so. The paintings are superficially inspired by her holidays in Kenya, and the sculptures are influenced by her previous oeuvre of alluring pictures, however, there is much more at play here than even the artist herself is aware of.

Originally from Denmark, this longtime resident of Thailand has built a career in both countries despite never having studied art formally at an institution. In this show, Romhild is ostensibly exploring the quintessence of womanhood by avoiding the stereotypes of ''beauty'' imposed by the male dominated world, and in doing so she reveals not only the feminine form, but also the female spirit.

Whether bronze or oil, totemic or female, whether African, Asian or other _ her art melds a combination of elements from the history of art dating back as far as its Palaeolithic progenitors to the modern masters of the past 100 years with her own style and interpretation.

Particularly impressive are the sculptures _ the first this artist has ever showcased _ which range from a life-size bust of a Swahili woman titled Dignity to smaller pieces such as Shanghai Fan and a series of stone-sized torsos and upturned legs. Indeed, they are so aesthetically stunning and skilfully executed it is amazing to think that Romhild had never previously worked in the round.

The loving strokes of Romhild's fingertips as she worked the clay of Dignity remain evident in the now hardened bronze. The nose, spread flat by the caresses of her thumbs, is posited just below two eyes so alive she could still be breathing. The single breast, exposed between a labyrinth of beads and a coat of burlap, could still be circulating blood.

Shanghai Fan with its Picasso-esque upside down face is a modern goddess of love that retains the exaggerated features of fecundity, which was the central feature of the first love goddesses of the Palaeolithic period. Also, with a reddish patina, the colour is the same as the ochre used in the famous Venus of Laussel (circa 30,000 BCE); only she holds two fans instead of a bison's horn to symbolise her sexual potency.

‘Warrior’

The nude torso and limb figurines similarly are symbols of divine female force, left scattered around La Lanta like fragments of Magna Mater statuettes in a newly uncovered Stone Age grotto.

Romhild's paintings are likewise celebrations of female force; even her portraits of the fauna such as the leopard and buffalo are female specimens. In fact, these are especially important as the leopard, an emblem of the hunter, and the buffalo, a metaphor for the hunted, are both symbols for the cycle of life.

These guardians assimilate the animal life into human life and link Romhild to her own totemic species, thus joining the living to the dead in a single sphere of being. In doing so, Romhild is ritualistically communing with her own ancestors through the ceremony of art.

The skull of the buffalo, appropriately titled Circle of Life, constitutes the life-substance and preserves the primal matter of the artist's mythical ancestors. Romhild is the skeleton of the buffalo: She has been transformed into the animal, much the same as animal bones in traditional pastoral societies had the power to bring the dead back to life.

It is interesting that Romhild's sculptures are cast in bronze, as it was during the Bronze Age that post-Neolithic men and their secret societies intimidated and subjugated women as the male ego reshaped the prehistoric world, when ''civilisation'' begun as a series of hieratic city states.

Although these works of art are hallmarks of the feminine spirit attempting to reassert itself, if they do suffer from a weakness it is they have not yet broken the chains of millenniums of repression. Romhild still makes the mistake of looking outward for inspiration, when truly great art can only be found from journeying inward, deeper into the unknowable darkness of her soul.

Nevertheless, Romhild is a conduit for the essential force of the universe and her daughters are epiphanies of the cosmic mystery she is unconsciously attempting to unravel. Her images are conceived as a rendition of the senses of life, and each represents a departed forebear of Romhild herself, her beloved grandmothers made visible once again through the magic formula of her totemic art."

Andrew J. West
Writer

 



Pictures from the opening night