Monaco-based artist Jane Gemayel had a solo show at the World Expo in Dubai last January.Back in her studio, this prolific artist constantly celebrates womanly strength.
Aren’t we all black boxes? Aren’t we systems whose internal mechanisms we can never quite grasp, knowing them mainly through their interactions with the rest of the world? Black boxes of words, images, inscriptions and associations of ideas, like the ones in which Jane Gemayel meticulously stores everything that catches her attention. It’s all grist to the mill of her creative imagination. Born in Canada, she lived in Montreal, New York, Paris and London before moving to Monaco thirty years ago. In 2015, this self-taught artist illustrated an edition of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet; she always has a copy in her bag. It’s a book at the junction of East and West which speaks of love, children, reason and passion, joy and pain. Spiritual and ethical questions like these imbue all her output, and were reflected in the 30-odd paintings shown in Dubai, where the Grimaldi Forum Monaco had turned the Monaco Pavilion into a pop-up art gallery.
The way into Jane Gemayel’s work is through the sharp black lines that define the forms and fill them with geometric patterns. “I transform a lot of things into female figures,” she says. She started with small drawings before moving on to today’s huge canvases. She has done a series of portraits, each one referencing the qualities of a flower – jasmine for purity, rose for love, hyacinth for sadness. And she portrays immensely tall, opulently curvy women, as statuesque as ancient Greek goddesses, their androgynous bodies reminiscent of Cézanne’s Les Grandes Baigneuses or Matisse’s La Danse. Almost all her “Big Paintings” are of these splendid, well-built women saying a firm collective “No!” to invisibility.
And you, what part do you play?
From 2016, Jane Gemayel started to work on topical subjects. “I looked at those terrible black and white photos of the Nice terrorist attack and I took the victims’ portrait photos in Monaco-Matin and painted the backgrounds in gold, like icons. Then I started working with photos from the New York Times,” she says. From dozens of press cuttings on which she has drawn and painted and written, Jane Gemayel dreams up large-scale paintings. The paintings in the News as Muse series all seem to express the same anger and distress, whether the subject is women’s rights, climate change or migration. Like a divine comedy (and the artist has worked on Dante’s masterpiece too) where each figure wears the mask of appearances. Like the figures in Zeng Fanzhi’s Last Supper. For Jane Gemayel, identity is made of the sum total of eyes looking at the observer, like the thousands of eyes she has been drawing obsessively since the Covid pandemic began. The self, that black box, can only be defined through others. And woman is a political force.
By Tanja Stojanov