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Anya Roberts-Toney: Summer’s Eve
August 13, 2020 - September 13, 2020
“Summer’s Eve evokes the heat and possibility inherent in a summer night—the sense of being on the cusp of something fiery.” —Anya Roberts-Toney
Fiery crimson skies and women with sparks coming from their eyes burst from the surfaces of Anya Roberts-Toney’s paintings in Summer’s Eve, her inaugural solo exhibition at Nationale. While some works reclaim myths of ill-fated female characters, namely Medusa and Ophelia, others conjure a world where women gather together in ritual, in peace, and in power. Brimming with symbols that have long connoted the feminine—vessels, flowers, water—Roberts-Toney’s paintings entice and delight as they invoke a new matriarchal world order.
In the painting Hold Still, Roberts-Toney rejects the monstrous depictions of Medusa from Greek mythology, and instead offers a powerful and beautiful serpent-headed woman. Hold Still is both a portrait and a still life; a vase with two pink roses seems to meld with the figure’s face, pulling the viewer into an unstable space. The title Hold Still references the power Medusa has to turn men to stone with her gaze. In this painting flares of light or energy come out of her eyes as she looks at something, or someone, out of view, while the presence of a fallen flower and the loosely depicted ground reference nineteenth century paintings of flowers. Historically still lifes, with their bountiful bouquets or bowls of ripe fruit, are easy to consume, similar to images of women throughout western art. Roberts-Toney’s work plays with the inheritance of that history and its depictions of women, drawing the viewer in through familiar motifs and then adding unexpected elements to destabilize the genre. Roberts-Toney admits that the spaces she paints, while matriarchal, lack the presence of women of color. As a white artist, she wrestles with the question of whose stories she has the right to depict, while acknowledging that the problem of patriarchy is intersectional.
Two richly detailed and colorful works, Summer’s Eve, the exhibition’s eponymous painting, and New Monuments both depict verdant, post-patriarchal landscapes. In Summer’s Eve, a circle of women hold hands and gather in ritual beside a two-headed, snaking candelabra. Roberts-Toney plays with scale in these works, nearly hiding a small figure or obscuring a large face to be discovered slowly by the viewer. In New Monuments, two ponds are each occupied by a floating head with the same flares for eyelashes as in Hold Still. This time they shoot high into the sky, spraying up like a fountain. Ophelia rising to this long-awaited moment—a new beginning is finally here.
Anya Roberts-Toney makes paintings that explore feminine power. She received her BA in Studio Art from Brown University in Providence, RI, and her MFA in Visual Studies from Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, OR. Her work has been exhibited locally and nationally at locations including Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, Dust to Dust Projects, The Portland ‘Pataphysical Society, the Office at Russo Lee Gallery, Somos Gallery, and Stephanie Chefas Projects. She is a recipient of the Stumptown Artist Fellowship. Originally from Seattle, WA, Roberts-Toney lives and works in Portland, OR.