Liz Maw: The Age of the Multiverse

Liz Maw does some of the most alluring and otherworldly contemporary portraits out there.  Intricately detailed, it is easy to marvel at their sheer size and her exquisite brushwork.  Maw contrasts her highly realistic style with fantastical subject matter, and she imbues her work with a sort of outré magnetism, for a lack of a better term 😛

Her latest exhibition The Age of the Multiverse concludes today at Ivan Anthony Gallery near the corner of East St and K’Rd.  I managed to just catch it, and though I do like to allow readers the opportunity to visit works themselves, time was not on my side.  I still wanted to write about the exhibition as I was quite taken by it, and was thinking about the works for some time afterwards.

The Age of the Multiverse features two large portraits and a smaller landscape.  The landscape is pastoral and picturesque, with rose pinks repeated in the sky and in the trees, but personally I found the portraits to be of greater fascination.

The first work you encounter is Dark Lord x 2 (2015, oil on board) which is about 2 metres high and features a solemn male figure in a jewelled doublet.  The jewels dazzle brilliantly, as if catching the light, and the buttons are exceptionally adorned with what I think are ships and dragons.  He is exhaustively modelled and Maw has surprisingly juxtaposed him with a shadowy female figure, depicted with almost Édouard Manet levels of flatness and in a simplistic style similar to Japanese manga.

Maw engages with the rich history of portraiture in art, and this image is reminiscent of the royal portraits painted by the likes of Hans Holbein, Diego Velázquez, Anthony van Dyck and more.  These images were often symbols of power, used to assert authority.  However, unlike those portraits, the male figure averts his gaze, somewhat diminishing his power.  When considering the power of the gaze in art and how the objects being gazed at were usually women, the male figure’s passivity did bring to mind Laura Mulvey’s seminal essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975).  Yet like all art, this work should not solely be seen through one lens but through a scope of thought.  Amongst all the ideas I had about this image, my sense of wonder was definitely struck by the unusual composition and minutiae, and simply the question of what is going on in this work?  I think part of the fun is in the not knowing 😀

In contrast to the Dark Lord’s downward gaze, blonde bombshell Charlotte fixes her bewitching stare upon you.  Titled Charlotte from the South (2015, oil on board) it is another relatively large work at about 1.5 x 1.5 metres.  Featuring what initially seems to be a simple image of a woman standing outdoors in a fur coat on a miserable day, it is also strikingly detailed.  Her luscious thick curls seem to shimmer and shine, and Maw has even painted her individual eyelashes.  The entire image is covered in drizzly rain, which doesn’t seem to dampen her hair or coat, and the light refracts the rain drops transforming them into twinkling diamond shapes.  Just beautiful.

With the rapid growth of celebrity culture due to advancements in mass and social media, celebrities have been elevated to the status of icons, and painted in a way that is on par to that of religious icons.  A number of Maw’s mesmerising portraits elicit such reflections and questioning of contemporary society, as does Charlotte from the South.  She is depicted as an ethereal winter temptress yet bears a slight sardonic smirk, like she is on a secret, aware of her 15 minutes of fame and the fleeting nature of beauty and stardom.

To view the Dark Lord and Charlotte, please click on the link:

And to see images of Maw’s other work, visit her website:

Maw also gave a wonderfully funny and honest interview for The Vernacularist Special Edition: Wāhine – Women published by the Depot Artspace, which celebrates the work, lives and thoughts of women in Aotearoa, New Zealand, specifically those involved in unique cultural, social, scientific and creative processes.

To view some of the pages and order a copy, please see below:

Thanks for reading, and I’ll try to be more onto it next time 🙂