New Zealand 20th Century
Rozi Demant created no small amount of controversy and sensation by being one of the few New Zealand artists to experience 5 sell out shows in succession since her first solo show in 2002 at age 17. It has taken Demant almost 2 years to complete her latest exhibition of seven works which will be exhibited in California.
In marked contrast to the hype surrounding her work, Demant herself is shy and reclusive, working out of her studio in the small town of Whakatane. When asked to speak about her work, she is reserved. Upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent as to why she is so reticent. It is probable that her work is deeply personal. The sole female protagonist in her paintings bears a striking resemblance to the artist - it cannot be ignored that her paintings are a possible reflection of herself. Demant comments on her secrecy, "To talk about my paintings feels like I am exposing too much of myself, this is something I can’t and won’t do.” She is also adamant that although her work is highly symbolic, she wants viewers to interpret its meaning for themselves. Just like the Surrealist paintings of Picasso, Dali and Magritte (whom she cites as inspirations), much is left to the realms of the imagination and the subconscious. This is something which is important to Demant, as she feels that her work is better left to private contemplation in order to retain its particular mystery.
Demant’s surrealized women, who possess something of Modigliani’s style in their appearance, reside in dark, opulent, fantasy worlds. Her work continues to become more detailed and the mastery of her medium is apparent with each new body of work. This confidence is manifested in more intrepid subjects and imaginative narratives. Although her work has always been erotic through its use of burlesque-type characters dressed in revealing corsetry, in Lovebirds, her work has become more overtly sexual. Demant has introduced a white-haired character who adopts feline-like poses on the end of a chain, presided over by her captive - a somber dark-haired woman in gothic dress. The introduction of this character is decidedly different from her previous work which contained only one repeated female protagonist. Whereas in earlier works, the main character still retained childlike qualities, these new paintings are undeniably of mature women.
Although sexually provocative, Demant’s women always retain the elegance and poise of a balancing ballerina. Their elongated legs and exaggerated female proportions lend them a vulnerability and innocence that belies their sexual, sometimes tortured behavior. The Amaranthus Caudates (Loves Lies Bleeding flower) is still prominent in this series - it’s vivid blood-red hue suffusing the rich color palate of the works. There is tension between captor and captive, with the viewer left unsure as to who plays which role. In some paintings, the lonely, unobtainable protagonist purges cages from her mouth; while in others she holds them in her hand, confident, assertive, holding the feline characters captive. Demant is continually inventive and maybe in each series there are aspects of herself that she is tentatively exposing, or as of yet, unwilling to free.
Although Demant’s work draws comparisons with Pop Surrealism, she continues to be wholly unique and idiosyncratic in her approach. There is a subtlety and delicacy to her work that is clearly her own. Demant’s singular talent, coupled with her position as somewhat of an outsider, allows her work to remain distinctive and unclassifiable. As a result, her work continues to show great promise and is gifted with a rare, enigmatic and captivating beauty.