The female form is hardly unexplored territory within the history of painting, but when a present-day artist with the sensibility, intuition, and tenderness of Joyce Polance approaches the canvas, the fleshly women invite us into the mystery of their stories and offer space for us to receive their unspoken pain and healing as part of our own. Polance presents images of women as they exist in relationship with one another – as friends, lovers, mothers, sisters, soulmates.
As she explains ‘Personally, it was a huge surprise to learn as an adult that I could turn to other women I wasn’t biologically related to for something as simple as a hug. That just wasn’t something that was modelled for me. And this isn’t meant to exclude men. Many of the women in my paintings represent father and brother figures; I believe men have the same struggles as women.’
Polance begins her paintings with photo sessions in her studio. She provides her models with a loose sense of how she wants them arranged, then allows for their emotional presence to shape the scene. Her palette is muted, exploring the contours of flesh against flesh, bones meeting curves, and the spectacular ordinariness and intricacies of flesh colouring itself. Her subjects are ordinary, quiet, and in a sense traditional, yet they are so well composed and executed that viewers don’t have to be at the edges of the contemporary art world to be profoundly impacted.
The arrangement of the figures and her delicate interplay between light and shadow reflect the psychological complexity of vulnerability, being known intimately. The women in her paintings fall into one another, sit atop each other, pull hair, grimace, and weep. Fists clench. Hands hold. ‘That’s why you’ll often see a juxtaposition of things like tenderness and anger,’ says Polance. ‘It’s never simple.’
The last few paintings show Joyce Polance in experimental mode, including a woman sporting a cocky skirt, and one with three boobs – wow indeed!