Elly Strik

Gorillas, Girls and Brides

14 Jan - 12 March 2006

Elly Strik (The Hague 1961) has been living and working in Brussels for some time now. In this home of Belgian surrealism, she produces her life-size drawings of peculiar personalities. Years ago these were occasionally animal figures as well, but then they became primarily portraits. Strik draws and paints on paper. The paint is thin and transparent, the colors subdued. Though her own facial features can be recognized in many drawings, they are by no means traditional portraits. These could best be described as psychological portraits – expressions of awareness and role patterns. A recent series of drawings stands out in this respect. For this Strik took inspiration from the celebrated Guerrilla Girls, a feminist pressure group from New York which has been pointing out the inequality of men and women in the art world since 1985. The group remains anonymous by way of fierce gorilla masks. For Elly Strik, these masks prompted a series of drawings of savage faces. She places the head of a gorilla on a female body and thus creates a strange new figure. Such figures are clothed in a girl’s dress, for instance, or a stylish skirt, a nightgown or an elegant bridal gown. The drawing Fay Wray shows the bizarre combination of gorilla, woman and bride. Strik’s title happens to be the name of actress who played in the legendary film King Kong. The strange combinations of ‘beauty and beast’ follow a surrealist tradition of masquerades and disguises that goes back to the work of René Magritte and James Ensor. At the same time, the elegant execution of line and the use of soft pastel colors bring to mind the work of Belgian symbolists such as Ferdinand Khnopff and Leon Spilliaert. There is also an affinity in terms of the theme, because the symbolists were fascinated with androgynous figures and femmes fatales such as Judith and Salomé, whose beauty led to the beheadings of Holofernes and John the Baptist. Woman as a temptress headhunter: the series of drawings showing peacock feathers seems to be a symbolic portrayal of the this theme. The feathers are meticulously rendered, elegant and soft, but the jewel-like eye is missing. The title  Castration may appear to leave little to the imagination, yet this is no heavy-handed variety of feminism. To Strik it represents a metamorphosis – a transition from gorilla to bride and from vain ostentation to genuine beauty.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication containing an essay by Jean-Christophe Ammann.