Most art these days seems to either take itself too seriously, or try too hard not to. In the middle is Genieve Figgis, a relatively young Dublin painter whose work I once saw and thoroughly enjoyed.

Figgis sticks largely to one subject matter — fictional aristocrats slicked in gloomy, melting colours. It’s whimsical painting, but there’s also something scary about it, like those women in Grey Gardens, or Edgar Allen Poe stories. Works like Living Room (2015) come at you with the dark tones of a Rothko, but marry them into something loosely figurative. It’s often as if you’re looking into an abstract painting and picking out things that look like people, without them actually being there. Tea-leaf art looking, like that scene in Moby Dick at the Spouter-Inn.

To put her gothic ambiguity down to her Irishness would probably be too easy, because there’s something a bit parodical in the way she renders her figures. Works such as Self Portraits as Evelyn Nesbit seem to wink at you, as if to acknowledge how ridiculous it is that someone would be painting in the 21st century. Her take on Manet’s Olympia is equally humorous, putting a dumbness into the classical piece that Manet would probably have approved of.

Figgis also shows a proclivity towards mirrors and sexual indecency that she may take from Manet, and Courbet. The wetness of her paint is impressionistic, but ultimately comes from Velasquez. In terms of her subject matter, you could probably pick any three dead white artists and generally name them her influences. The ways she ironises them, however, is without any precedent obvious to me.

What she’s trying to say with her scenes isn’t entirely clear. Possibly, nothing. Anyway, it is barely important, since they are so good. At a time when we are repeatedly told painting is in a crisis, artists like Figgis are essential because with works such as Royal (2015) they show that, well, it isn’t.

The point of this series is to highlight artists we believe are underrated. We haven’t had someone so deserving yet.


Words by Harry Peter Sanderson

This article first appeared in print volume 88 edition 6 BLUE