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Wendy Elia RWA

"I’m trying to avoid voyeurism by refusing to let you be a passive viewer; my subjects look you straight in the eye, make you engage. Theirs is an active gaze. It’s uncomfortable.”

Wendy Elia is a British painter of Anglo/ Greek Cypriot descent who trained at St Martins School of Art. She has exhibited widely and been a finalist in a number of national and international competitions including the National Portrait Gallery JPS and BP Portrait Awards (4 times), Sovereign European Art Prize, Ruth Borchard Self Portrait Prize, and the Threadneedle Prize. Her work is held in public permanent collections across the UK, including at the RWA (Royal West of England Academy), University of Essex, Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, Falmouth Art Gallery, and Priseman Seabrook Collection: 21st Century British Painting and in private collections in the UK, Italy and South Africa. She was recently the recipient of a grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and in 2019 was elected as an RWA Academician. Notable commissions include Arts Council funded projects such as a portrait for the cultural Olympiad (converted into life sized posters and displayed on billboards, bus stops etc.) and ‘Shifting Subjects: Contemporary Women Telling the Self through the Visual Arts’ (Grimsby and Usher Gallery, Lincoln) exhibiting alongside Sarah Lucas, Miranda Whall and others. In addition to her many solo exhibitions, Elia has exhibited widely in numerous group shows, including a recent tour of China with the Contemporary British Painting collective and ‘Strange Worlds –The Vision of Angela Carter’ (RWA, Bristol). She has contributed to symposia in the UK and has been called upon to judge art competitions.

Wendy Elia works in series which explore the social and broader contexts of our times. In her portrait work she confronts our voyeurism and asks questions about the female gaze and painting’s relationship to authenticity and illusion. Elia moves from the personal to the political not only in the range of content and form in the various series, but also within individual paintings: using a range of pictorial symbols and signifiers to extend the meaning/narrative of the works.

Illusion not truth is Elia’s survival strategy; painting is her way of dissecting the world, of blowing it apart. In placing works from different series side by side, she is reassessing her own history as an artist. Furthermore, Elia’s constant representation and renegotiation of women’s roles leaves us questioning not just where are we now or, as Gauguin would have it, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? but who - and where - do we really want to be.

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