In the 16th century, Saint Teresa of Ávila spoke of being visited by an angel, of "the sweetness of this excessive pain" as he pierced her heart with a golden shaft. Theresa's words, and her canonization some 40 years after her death, led the prominent 17th-century artist and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini to sculpt her as a figure bridging the seemingly disparate states of religious and almost sexual euphoria. The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa remains one of the most important and well-studied Baroque sculptures, and it's also the inspiration for a major London show from Irish artist Chloe Early.
Suspended is an all-new collection from Early that captures a single figure in a state of weightlessness. "I wanted to capture the figures at the point where it was uncertain if they are involved in the glory of a rise or the danger of a fall and 'suspend' them in that moment," Early tells The Verge, "with every ecstatic moment comes the knowledge that that moment will pass."
Accompanying the exhibition is a video created in collaboration with London-based filmmaker Andrew Telling. The video blends clouded imagery of a performer tumbling through the air with shots of Early at work. Originally conceived as an online trailer for the show, the striking video now forms an active part of the exhibition, playing in a loop in the gallery's basement.
The exhibition showcases several large-scale works alongside a multitude of smaller studies, all oil paintings on aluminum. The link to Bernini's Theresa is nuanced, rather than directly referential; Early says she sought to capture the "drama and emotion" of the sculpture and other works from the late Renaissance and early Baroque. The prevalence of floating figures, of "angels and humans hovering between some otherworldly place and reality" interested Early deeply, and Suspended is a fresh study on those themes. "I was interested in doing a contemporary take on figures in space — a sort of 'angels withoutout wings' — something that's both uplifting and a little dangerous and unsettling."
Unsettling is definitely a good word to describe Suspended. One of the larger pieces, "Something Shiny Slips Away," evokes conflicting emotions. “I've always been interested in opposites in my work,” says Early, “and exploring themes which can have a dual interpretation.” It depicts a figure lifted by bright balloons, yet enveloped in a murky cloud that almost seems to be pulling her down to what dark thing lies beneath. There are darker and lighter moments in the exhibition — Early's palette is thankfully varied enough to prevent a walk around the show becoming an exercise in despair — but no single work contrasts light and dark forces with such aplomb.
Suspended runs through to May 3rd at The Outsiders’ gallery at 8 Greek Street, London. Entrance is free. The Outsiders has two spaces in the UK and has also put on shows in New York. It sells prints and original art directly to the public through its online store, and is currently offering a pair of Early’s prior works.