angela-dufresne-hot_50 by 60 inches_2012.Angela Dufresne, Some Like it Hot, 2012, Oil on canvas, 50 by 60 inches

A hot/cold interior, a crimson stage in the middle of a veiled blue vault, one lone, naked lady, tiny in scale but lit up—the lightest thing in the room– presiding over a vast and louche lounge. A large chandelier looms in front of her, but it’s clearly not the room’s light source. That part is played, rather, by her. She is the sun and it is her glowing form that sheds light, since the only lit part of the chandelier is on the side facing her; the other is in shadow, like a waxing crescent moon. Due to the canted perspective of the room the chandelier hangs off to the right in front of her, as if they are engaged in a conversation of light. The room roils as a sensuous interior space—a nightclub perhaps, with three perspectivally-receding rows of carnival lights, casting a blue glow and framing the woman inside a barrel vault of that thick cobalt luster. There’s a potted palm off to the side in the red darkness, the fingers of which are snaking into the blue curtained archway created by the first row of tiny lights. A few dark figures cluster in the immediate foreground, evidently her audience.

This is a strange room. It is a spatial outlier. Blue curtains advance in a way they shouldn’t and the red background, which should be coming forward–as the color red does–, instead anomalously recedes. Clearly different rules apply here. Everything is dark and glowing with alizarin phosphorescence.

What to make of this scene? It seems to me that a kind of birthing space is being presented here- the glowing reds behind the frosty blue curtain swag suggesting a radiating uterine warmth, full of vulval folds like rectilinear muscle walls, while the blue-lit barrel vault mimes the coldness of the birth passage, the cleaving from the mother, and the loss of that sonorous warm bloody bag of primal nurture. Numerous thin frosty glazes, like thick veils, separate the viewer from that warm beckoning far away place behind. It brings to mind Peter Sloterdijk’s description of the vulval shape of certain doorways in the East. He says, “Whoever believes in ritual acts of approach, that they are standing before this entrance of all entrances, or envisages it in symbolic imagination, is immediately affected by a suction that is meant to make the beholder’s senses reel….And in reality, as soon as the entrants pass through the grotto grate, they encounter the tropical night; and the fall of this exquisite night would mark the end of everything based on clearing, distance and concreteness. From now on, asking about the intimate has its price for the analytical intelligence too.”

We are off balance here, like swooning mendicants. Or newborns. We are transfixed by the tiny lady with her warm glow, but she seems to be making fools of us, wearing her silly duck bill of a mouth. We want to submit to her, follow her back into that memory of uterine sublimity as she and the chandelier orb, like a glowing ovum, gaze at each other in a continuous back and forth. But we know we would be foolish to do so; she would only lead us astray. Where’s the authentic mother in all of this, the one who’s supposed to notice us, tend to us? Why are we being messed with here?

We pause and recollect; maybe that’s all we get. Maybe this is about the provisional nature of the maternal, that it’s not about perfection, a return to the womb and the biunal relationship at all, but about the pleasures of the attractive promise. This is desire, desiring itself continuously, unceasingly, not mother at all. We’ve been done with mother for a while now. We’re off to our own version of Yonder. And with the experience of desire comes the pleasure of wanting and gazing and, as is the nature of painting, not having to stop. We can look and look, touch with our eyes, and imagine the mother in whatever false guise she may assume. She is still a goddess despite her mask.

SPw_Sanctuary, 2014Julie Heffernan, Self Portrait with Sanctuary, 2014, Oil on canvas, 102 x 76 inches