Skip to navigation Skip to main content
Ena Swansea

Solo Exhibition

Ena Swansea’s New York paintings evoke a bleak image of the Big Apple. Her depictions of New York’s nocturnal club life, whose scenes and sexual identities she often portrays, are juxtaposed with more unusual perspectives of New York, such as that of parades taking place in the urban canyons of the metropolis, through which she allocates both childish and threatening traits to Manhattan’s megalomania. Swansea’s highly elaborate and unique preparation of her canvasses, characterised by a specially developed graphite base on which the superimposed paint has only a minimal hold, bestows a rainy and mineral atmosphere upon her works, absorbing light or, depending on the angle, reflecting it with an icy brilliance. The forms shaped with large brush strokes take on a translucent character. Nevertheless, this smooth and metallic base layer represents more than just a simple optical effect: it gives Ena Swansea’s works an additional metaphorical density. Her choice of subjects, often derived from photos and snapshots, are reminiscent in their framing of certain paintings by Edgar Degas or Edouard Manet, whose critical views on the modern art movement of the late 19th century appear to echo the unerring and distanced view that Ena Swansea harbours with regard to her contemporaries at the beginning of the new millennium.

These aspects of Ena Swansea’s work are highlighted in the two extremely large-scale paintings around which the exhibition is centred. Kembra 2 is the portrait of Kembra Pfahler, who was an emblematic singer and performance artist of the underground culture of the 1990’s, depicted while performing with her theatrical rock band The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. Depicting one of New York’s noumerous parads, demands plays with a point of view from a distance, through a wet window, proposing a melancholic gaze on the city.

Despite the fact that Ena Swansea’s paintings tell tales of everyday life, they maintain a balance between the fiction, illusion and reality of daydreams.

— Luc Tuymans


  • Marie-Claude Beaud