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Aliza Nisenbaum

  • Mary Mary 6 Dixon St Glasgow, G1 4AX United Kingdom (map)

Mary Mary is delighted to announce a solo exhibition with New York based Aliza Nisenbaum, her first in the UK. In this exhibition of new paintings, Nisenbaum explores the notion of an expanded portraiture through what she refers to as “reciprocal modes of attention” that obtain in her practice of observing her subjects.

Recently Niesenbaum has focused on the subject of the undocumented immigrant, creating portraits of Mexican and South American immigrants to the United States that she meets in New York. These paintings create documents of the undocumented. The slow process of observational painting that Nisenbaum employs generates the conditions for encounter and conversational exchange between herself and her sitters, which often include group portraits spanning generations.

In these new paintings Nisenbaum continues her work giving visibility to the undocumented but juxtaposes them with others who populate her daily life—artists, friends, coworkers, students, her partner. In this apparent incongruity, a commonality emerges. What these portraits have in common is that they all depict creative makers. In ‘Hector’ 2015 a dark-skinned man appears half-asleep before his ceramic sculpture, while in ‘Erin’ 2015 a pale young woman, an artist, gazes outside the frame, dwarfed by what appears to be a painting of a dark-skinned woman her age. The choice to depict these disparate subjects in such remote proximity only underscores the social, racial, and class differences that divide them. They ask, why is it that people engaged in the same activities are separated categorically? In these recent paintings the social is underscored by the singular in each subject. 

The paintings leave the viewer wondering at the reciprocated attention of Nisenbaum’s subjects. How much access does she allow us to their in-turned gazes? A remote proximity underlies the attitudes and gesture of the figures she represents. The figures are lost in half-sleep hemmed in by plants, artworks, vibrant patterns and fields of pure colour.

They are as open as they are aloof, unaware of Nisenbaum’s, and by proxy, our presence. This is the tension in the paintings, the delicate interplay of paint that rests up against the surface of the canvas offering itself to sensuous perception, touching our eye, even as the subject we gaze on claims the right to be remote, unapproachable, somewhere else.

She paints textiles and patterns found in the homes of her subjects often allowing them to overrun the objects they surround, disobeying the rules of perspective. An embroidered shirt purchased on a trip home to Mexico is depicted with equal skill and care to that given to the original garment by its maker. Her brushwork echoes the meditative patterns in the depicted embroidery, bringing this craft to bear on her own. Even when figures are absent, the paintings themselves are thus immigrants, physically present, but thinking back to their origins, the sensuous acts of their making. Her depictions show how the space of painting can bring together disparate realities into new and affective configurations.

Forthcoming projects include ‘Figuratively,’ curated by Matthew Higgs, Wilkinson Gallery, London; ‘Biennial of the Americas,’ MCA Denver Museum; ‘You Dont Bring Me Flowers,’ 68 Projects, Berlin (all 2015)

Exhibition Preview: Friday 12 June 6 - 9pm

Exhibition Dates: Saturday 13 June 2015 - Saturday 1 August 2015

Exhibition opening hours: Tuesday - Saturday 12 - 6pm & by appointment

For further information and queries regards images, artist and press please contact

Earlier Event: June 13
GSA Degree Show
Later Event: June 13
Wild Fig Pop-up Dining Event