JENNIFER PACKER – THE EYE IS NOT SATISFIED WITH SEEING
Exhibition review by Jennifer Starnes
New-York based artist Jennifer Packer exhibits her first solo show in a European institution with ‘THE EYE IS NOT SATISFIED WITH SEEING’ at Serpentine Galleries in London (19 May – 22August 2021). 34 works in total are presented, a mixture of miniature and large-scale drawings and paintings, rooted in representation and fuelled by the political and sociological introspection that underpins life. The title of the show references a biblical passage from Ecclesiastes which alludes to the human need for desire, which can never truly be sated. This is reminiscent of the confrontation that Jennifer Packer encourages through forces of attraction vs. resistance within her work.
Upon entering the exhibition, I was drawn to TRANSFIGURATION (HE’S NO SAINT), a painting I had previously seen online and the initial inspiration behind my visit. Seeing the painting in person was a completely different experience, the fiery red tones, blood orange and stark yellow burned bright. The figurative stance and gaze, both vulnerable and at peace, there is a palpable energy when standing face to face with this painting. A clear ambiguity plagues the painting, much like the sharp line that dissects the canvas in two. The figure could be seen as sinking into the murky blackened space or emerging from it.
Several drawings also adorn the gallery walls, carrying a different sensibility but equal weight as the paintings presented alongside them. There is a delicacy to the charcoal lines which make them quite distinct in comparison. THE MIND IS ITS OWN PLACE sees two figures sharing the space, one in motion and the other still, eyes closed. Bluish pastel hues merge with a lone purple hand. Smoky grey lines melt into one another, both layering and erasing to reveal subtleties and create a sense of intimacy.
Jennifer Packer comments “I feel resistance to the use of the word “bodies” to describe the figures in my work. There’s an important difference between having a body and being a body. Bodies can be almost anything and are often subject to mindless objectification or a loss of humanity”.
Jennifer presents a dichotomy between portraiture and flower compositions, drawing on a fascinating parallel for how humanness can be represented. SAY HER NAME is perhaps Packer’s most widely recognised painting, made in response to the death of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old Black American woman who was found hanging in a police cell following her arrest 3 days prior for a minor traffic violation. The suspicious circumstances surrounding Sandra’s death sparked the #sandrabland social justice movement and lead to public outcry regarding racially motivated police violence. Packer comments “when I googled Sandra, I couldn’t find any images of her memorial…so, in a way, this painting became an expression of an inability to deal with that loss”. When I look at this painting, I see contained chaos, it has a harrowing depth to it, owed to the rich colour palette and hazy painterly expressions which characterise Jennifer Packer’s style. The energetic nature of these works is something that can’t be escaped and the visceral response they conjure can’t be ignored.
Jennifer’s background in art and psychology informs her mixed media practise with specialism in realism and portraiture. Her works are often inspired by her interest in biology and the body alongside additional influences stemming from her passion for science fiction and horror.
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