At first glance Sophie Ruigrok‘s solo exhibition 'today I feel relevant and alive’ may read like snapshots from the scrapbook of a sun-drenched summer or storyboards for the adaptation of a sensual romantic novella. These dispatches from a garden of earthly delights, these letters from the land of the lotus-eaters, belie however a more melancholic, mournful missive. Upon closer inspection, one’s brain begins to fog, engulfed by a lovesick fever dream. Previously sunkissed skin now gleams with a peaky greenish tint. Mouths previously agape with contagious laughter or orgasmic ecstasy, now appear to emit anguished wails or heartbroken groans. Here, love is the most potent narcotic, and we are all displaying withdrawal symptoms.
These pastels, produced over the last two pandemic-plagued years, are prone to introspection yet with an outward-looking, and indeed outdoor looking, perspective. A longing, perhaps, to touch and be touched, a craving for close contact, such intimacies inconceivably outlawed in recent times. Drawings on card with roughened edges, as if torn from larger narratives now lost, meander through The Sunday Painter‘s lower gallery space or gather in curated clusters. Hearts are held in a vice-like grip, both literally and metaphorically. Break-up notes are penned in sanguine script, while 'LOVE’ is engraved on the forehead of a nearby figure. Solemn self-portraits are scattered throughout.
Art historical references abound, as classical sculptures and Greco-Roman statues become flesh and blood, their skin soft as unfired clay, as hands press and fingers sink into their doughy flanks. You catch glimpses of The Three Graces or The Ghent Altarpiece, peeks of Botticelli’s Primavera or Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, rumours of Rodin. Gustav Vigeland’s portrayal of the pinnacle of mythological love, that of Psyche and Eros, is reimagined as a couple’s coastal embrace. Religious connotations too are hard to ignore, be it baptismal bathing or plentiful fish to feed the pescatarian five thousand. In fact, it feels as if with only a slight rehang of Ruigrok’s prepossessing pastels, one could almost tell the entire creation story, from God’s making of man from the dusty earth to Adam and Eve’s loss of innocence, subsequent introduction to shame and eventual expulsion from Eden.