Under immense pressure, minerals in the earth do that seemingly inexplicable thing where they turn into gleaming geodes, crystallising into sharp facets of brilliant colour that seem at oddswith the harsh conditions under which they were created.
Interdisciplinary artist Rosie Mudge is no stranger to this kind of juxtaposition. In Under Pressure, her second solo with SMAC Gallery, Mudge presents a series of large-scale paintings and smaller works on paper that employ her characteristic glittering gradients. Combining automotive paint and glitter glue, Mudge subverts feminine or kitsch perceptions of all things sparkly by incorporating them into imposing abstract artworks that reference the typically male-populated visual language of colour field painting.
In abstract works like That Soft Pink Matter (Close My Eyes and Fall into You) and What if the Sky and the Stars Are for Show (Dim the Lights and Fall into You), the viewer’s eye is set adrift in a field of crystalline sparkles, drawn in by their scale and soothed by their smooth colourprogressions. Mudge describes the tranquil yet vacant quality of her abstract horizons as “both an invitation and a boundary,” either welcoming deeper interpretation or denying the viewer access. Like precious stones, part of their beauty is in their elusiveness.
The introduction of text in the form of popular song lyrics by artists like Nirvana, Daft Punk, and The Cure gives the eye a place to rest. “Words ground us in something that is simultaneously abstract and tangible: the symbol of the idea made visible,” says arts and culture journalist Miss Rosen of the work produced by neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer, whose Truisms pioneered the use of language as medium. Similarly, Mudge does not simply use lyrics as a tool. To her, music is as much medium as it is melody, mainstream lyrics a vehicle for making the elitist and sometimes intimidating sphere of “high culture” in the contemporary art world more accessible.
While they may seem generative, each work is completely unique, from the one-off coloursmixed in the moment to Mudge’s custom-manipulated font, a bold, sloping version of Avenir that encapsulates the aesthetic of noughties WordArt and spells out the lyrics that get stuck in our heads for days at a time.
Rendered primarily in alluring hues of rose-quartz pink and aquamarine blue, the hyper-tense, large-format lettering is in opposition with the gentleness of its pastel palette. According to Mudge, this juxtaposition illustrates the labour of having to maintain feminine qualities of gentleness, beauty, and obedience while concealing traits traditionally viewed as masculine, including strength, independence, and a deeply human ambition that is always present but often sidelined.
As they say, a diamond earns its sparkle from the pressure it endures.
The paintings’ glittering surfaces, evoking all the bubblegum popping, lipgloss smacking, powder puff sparkling, and hairbrush singing of tween-hood in the late 90s, also belie the industrial isolation of a far more laborious process of creation. Buttoned to the eyes in protective gear and with the oppressive whir of an airbrush compressor cutting her studio off from the rest of the world, Mudge is lost to the music blasting from her earphones.
“Young hearts run free,” croons Candi Staton. “Cry me a river,” laments Justin Timberlake. “You can be a sweet dream or a beautiful nightmare,” belts Beyoncé, giving a powerful and unmistakable voice to the opposing ideas contained within each of Mudge’s artworks. Guided by emotion, some of these lyrics find their way onto her large-scale canvases (more than two meters tall in the case of works like Come As You Are (As You Were, As I Want You to Be)), cutting through the noise and the fumes, their deeply relatable messages conveyed through a physically punishing process.
“It’s about connection,” says Mudge. “When you’re listening to a song that really hits you, you feel such a deep connection with the artist. You feel like it was written just for you, even though you know that it wasn’t and millions of people feel the same way you do.” It’s these inherent contrasts—connection versus isolation, feminine versus masculine, exclusivity versus accessibility—that characterise Mudge’s practice.
In a world where it’s never been easier to communicate, our overexposure to #relatable content can actually exacerbate feelings of insecurity and loneliness. Under building pressure from a constant stream of memes, cultural content, critical theory, and countless expressions of individuality that use the same trending sounds and airbrushed filters to get their point across, we are rendered mute; but perhaps it’s precisely these shared experiences of isolation that draw us even closer?
Like scattered minerals compressed into dazzling crystals, the seemingly contradictory messages contained in Under Pressure knit us together. Mudge condenses the human condition at large into glittering nuggets of individual experience, permitting each of us in our own way to believe that Beyoncé is singing to us alone.
Fay Janet Jackson