Flowers Central, Cork Street, 1st-25th June 2011
Walking into a room full of family and friends is always a joyful feeling and although the family and friends were not mine; the atmosphere of intimacy and joyous celebration I encountered at Ishbel Myerscough’s ‘Life’ exhibition made me feel as if I belonged. There on the walls all around me were portraits of the same family and friends looking back upon themselves.
In this exhibition Ishbel paints exquisite portraits of the people she loves. You could not feel anything but flattered to have your portrait painted by Ishbel for although she paints honestly, showing scars, blemishes, moles and all, there is a tender intimacy that holds an emotional bond between sitter and painter.
One wall is hung from left to right with a series of ascending height approximate life size portraits of her family. Starting with her 2 year old daughter and following through her 6 and 9 year old sons, her 16 year old niece and ending with her 41 year old husband. The children’s faces are tenderly painted, depicting every mole, freckle and perfect imperfection. They all stand alone in the briefest of underwear(although her niece is modestly covered in a black t-shirt), against dark blue backgrounds. The contrast between the realistic glowing flesh of the children and the background makes them appear solid and flat at the same time as if cut out from a magazine and placed upon the background. Their un-nerving appearance is further emphasised by the strange foreshortening of their legs, giving the viewer a double aspect and making the legs of her daughter almost rubbery and ‘tadpole like’. The contrast to her husband’s portrait is strong. He is painted side on looking back in time over the upcoming generations, his thin body starkly placed upon a yellow background. He does not confront the viewer as if his time is over and it is now the time of the children.
In the back room are 4 tiny portraits of the artist and her friend artist Chantal Joffe, both heavily pregnant their bellies distended to the point of bursting. Their bodies are comic and tender at the same time. They stand in bra and pants, their pale flesh silhouetted against a black background. Standing back to back, like book-ends, one in front of the other or alone they look as if at any moment they might do a silly walk or can-can kick.
The most impressive thing about this exhibition is the attention to detail and the sheer joy that Ishbel derives from this. Every hair and cotton stitch is depicted, one begins to wonder if she owns any brushes with more than one hair, so fine is the detailing. It makes you want to come in close to enjoy the intimacy the artist is experiencing with her subjects. Intimate indeed!