Nancy Elsamanoudi: Leg Up
September 18 to October 13, 2019
SFA Projects, 131 Chrystie Street, NYC

Installation view of the exhibition under review. Image courtesy of the artist and gallery.

Nancy Elsamanoudi’s Leg Up marks her first solo show with SFA Projects. The exhibition debuts new paintings that the artist has completed in the wake of her previous solo show at Amos Eno gallery in 2018. Elsamanoudi exposes the fantastic and sexualized aspects of the everyday, reveling in the psychological fantasy her nude figures embody. Her works sigh in concert with the viewer at the complete absurdity of everything. After all, this is who we are in our hidden selves, in the parts of ourselves we don’t give away to others.

Nancy Elsamanoudi, Mooncake, 2019, oil, oil stick, and graphite on panel, 36 x 36 inches.
Image courtesy of the artist and gallery.

Form isn’t subservient to content in Elsamanoudi’s unapologetic paintings. Textured collar bones and contoured torsos load the gallery space with tension. At once menacing and beguiling, contorted figures capture the breadth of Elsamanoudi’s practice: she neither shies away from, nor fully embraces, the sexualized creature. Form meets content head-on as her brushstrokes define women who remain in control while contorting themselves to fit into absurd scenarios. In other moments, women just enjoy the freedom to exist. Smoking a cigarette, merging into the grainy picture plane. Women just being free. Free to wander through their own imaginations.

Nancy Elsamanoudi, Grey, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 inches.
Image courtesy of the artist and gallery.

Elsamanoudi reveals the collapse of fantasy into everyday life, tracing the evolution of an object from its real to imagined forms: “On the one hand, the flowers [in Pink Flowers] flip the script on what the phallus means: Here, the phallus is a delicate, vulnerable thing that offers pleasure and delight.” The artist traces these tendencies in her practice towards magical realism, while indicating that “there are no easy answers that come out of these paintings: no grand, definitive statement.” Her works create new theaters for the absurd, liminal spaces for discovery and experimentation. Settings emerge where reality and imagination collide.

Nancy Elsamanoudi, Pink Flowers, 2018, oil, acrylic, gesso, collage, and graphite on panel, 36 x 36 inches.
Image courtesy of the artist and gallery.

Elsamanoudi’s work stays irreverent while also upending the male gaze: Nude women cavort with avian companions while staring off into the distance, as in Perch. There is nothing remarkable about these women except for their peculiar self-awareness and penchant for confident self-assertion. These women are not here to please you, but to please themselves. They know who they are and they revel in this knowledge. Elsamanoudi probes the barriers and boundaries of gender identity, defying the viewer’s expectations and allowing space for the women she paints to assert themselves as individual personae. In the words of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born but becomes a woman.”

Nancy Elsamanoudi, Perch, 2019, oil, oil stick, and graphite on panel, 36 x 36 inches.
Image courtesy of the artist and gallery.

Painterly gestures complicate the identity and intentions of her subjects in these paintings. In Cupcake, Elsamanoudi creates rough outlines of figures engaged in a coquettish blend of activities ranging from the innocent to the salacious. From the shoulders up, figures innocently lounge on a couch. The woman leans across her companion, about to enjoy a cupcake. The shift occurs when the viewer begins to question the narrative surrounding these figures: taking in the phallic flowers, the suggestive outlines of the figures’ groins, and the gestural brushstrokes and slices of raw canvas that indicate a quick impression of the scene. Elsamanoudi makes suggestions, but never to the point of didacticism. She is not interested in teaching the viewer what their response should be. Rather, her work intimates. It implies.

Nancy Elsamanoudi, Cupcake, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 inches.
Image courtesy of the artist and gallery.

Leg Up is an unrestrained exploration of womanhood in the 21st century and a flagrant denial of the categorical. The works on view demand no response and require no definitive categorization. Instead, they fawn in their own right to be, reveling in the bare fact of their being. Elsamanoudi has built women up from the textures of their own imagination. Her work hints at the power of the female gaze but remains self-aware enough to find humor in society’s obsession with sexualizing women’s very existence. Leg Up gives women space to breathe while recognizing that feminist surrealism still needs plenty of room to evolve and grow more comfortable with itself.

Nancy Elsamanoudi, Happy Hour, 2019, oil and charcoal on wood panel, 36 x 36 inches.
Image courtesy of the artist and gallery.

Cover Image: Nancy Elsamanoudi, Confetti, 2019, oil and acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and gallery.

“Leg Up” – a Solo Show of Works by Nancy Elsamanoudi is on view at SFA Projects, 131 Chrystie Street, from September 18 through October 13th, 2019.