Sim Smith is proud to present Female Stallion, Kate Groobey's second solo exhibition at the gallery. The exhibition develops across large oil paintings, accompanying performances and film. The protagonist of these works, Groobey's wife, the writer and poet Jina Khayyer is not only the beating heart of this show but its stimulation across Groobey's rich and abundant practice. It is a show that explores what it means to be a Female Stallion in today's world.
There are six large oil paintings in Groobey's new painting series Female Stallion with accompanying performances that see the paintings brought to life by Groobey herself, who dresses up as her character in painted costumes, performing improvised dances in front of painted backdrops to music of her own creation. Speaking the language of social media to draw us in and immerse us in her world, Groobey has created a video- series made on her iPhone, incorporating a series of movements developed with BOOMERANG and in-built camera features like LIVE, SLO-MO and BOUNCE.
The protagonist in Groobey's paintings is her wife, the writer and poet Jina Khayyer. Each of the paintings is based on conversations between Groobey and Khayyer which centre around their everyday life. Groobey uses text, taken from their conversations, to bypass the traditional male-gaze, giving Khayyer agency to instruct, inform and invite the viewer.
By inserting words into the paintings and recordings of Khayyer's own voice into the performance soundtrack, we hear Khayyer. She informs us that she likes to lick ice-cream. She tells us that she is a Female Stallion. The horse is also a Female Stallion, we see only its face, the body is cropped and therefore exists imaginatively beyond the edge of the canvas in our viewing space, as if we are entangled or invited to imagine ourselves as a female stallion too. In Be in Bloom, Khayyer instructs us to bloom and demonstrates the act of blooming, flowers springing out of her head. There is a more direct invitation to enter the work in Get into my Rainbow. Groobey invites us to step perceptually through the picture plane with her to impress upon us the exaggerated feelings of pleasure we get from seeing rainbows, from feeling equal and happy, from licking an ice-cream, from kissing, talking and trusting, from looking at flowers and being in nature.
In the Female Stallion performances, the invitation to enter into Groobey and Khayyer's world is extended. Groobey talks about the Female Stallion performances in relation to Japanese Nō theatre, which Groobey and Khayyer encountered firsthand when they traveled to Japan in 2018 for the UK's Daiwa Prize Residency. Like Groobey's performances, Nō uses masks which have an extremely limited field of vision. For Nō, as for Groobey, this limitation is meant to direct the engagement of performer and audience inwards so they can more easily enter into the inner world of the character. The performer shouldn't just imitate the character but 'become' the character so that the audience can become totally immersed in the characters inner life. The goal of Nō performance is the meeting of minds between performer, character and audience. Its form was developed in the 1300's as a practice to help audiences practice empathy towards others, reflecting Japan's dominant philosophical ideas, of Buddhism and Confucianism, and the belief that practicing empathy towards others was necessary to good citizenship and personal fulfilment. In this spirit, Groobey invites us to change our subject position and flex our empathetic muscles.
The title piece, Female Stallion, depicts Khayyer, sitting cocksure in the mouth of a giant blue horse. Each makes their body physically vulnerable and open to the other in a moment that is charged and tender. One holds the other in her mouth, one of the most delicate and intimate parts of the body. One puts her whole body in the trust of the other. The portrait was inspired when, on their morning run, passing the field next to their house, where their neighbour's horses are kept, Khayyer observed how combatively the female horse defended her territory, calling her a 'female stallion', which since then they have used as synonym for strong women and the balancing of masculine and feminine energies. In the Female Stallion performance, Groobey becomes the horse, her tail symbolising bodily strength and power. Groobey holds it in her hand, swishing it back and forth like a paintbrush, flicking her wrist the same way she throws paint onto the canvas.
There is a second Female Stallion painting, where Khayyer sits on the back of the blue horse. Groobey's blue horse nods to Khayyer's German roots by way of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group, formed in Germany in 1912, and in particular to Franz Marc's Blue Horse 1, which Khayyer showed to Groobey at the Lenbachhaus Museum on a trip to Munich. For Der Blaue Reiter group the horse symbolised creative energy, and the rider symbolised the artist who controls it. Groobey's horse and rider seem to be in a moment of creative conflict: representing a struggle with her own doubt, Khayyer's inner horse is uncertain and looking backwards while Khayyer gently reassures her with one hand and points the way forwards with the other hand. It's a painting about trusting yourself.
I Like to Lick was inspired when, enjoying an ice-cream in Venice, Khayyer explained playfully to Groobey's curator why a cup of ice-cream cannot replace a cone, saying, 'I like to lick'. Groobey enjoyed the awkward innuendo. It is these moments, that stick in the memory, that Groobey later translates into drawings, paintings and performances. In the I Like to Lick performance, the long tongue has something brush-like about it, dipping into the ice-cream as if it was a cone of paint rather than ice- cream.
Bouche à Bouche depicts two hands, each holding a pair of lips. The painting was inspired when Groobey's eighty-year-old mother-in-law visited them in France and said, 'Everyone likes a bit of bouche à bouche (French for mouth to mouth).' Groobey was immediately drawn to the sassy expression of her mother-in-law and the idea that desire never ends. For Groobey lips are a symbol of communication. After moving to France, Groobey experienced for the first time what it's like to live in a country without speaking or understanding the language. The giant mouth in Female Stallion, the long tongue in
I Like to Lick and the two pairs of big lips in Bouche à Bouche are symbolic of Groobey's linguistic struggles. In the Bouche à Bouche performance the two giant hands move rhythmically back and forth, up and down, reminding us that it is the hands that communicate meaning in painting.
Be in Bloom was inspired by Groobey and Khayyer's new life in nature, in rural south of France, watching the farmers at work all-year-round, noticing how the harvest is related to conditions like ground preparation, how much sun, how much water, how much care to produce a bloom and a harvest and how, like an artists practice, it is rooted in manual labour and patience. The body works to produce the bloom, while the head-bloom is the birth of ideas, the most powerful seed to plant. Germans use the word Kopfgeburt or head-birth (Kopf means head, Geburt means birth) to refer to imaginings and ideas, things that do not exist in the physical world yet.
Get into my Rainbow depicts Khayyer standing in the middle of a rainbow. When they visited a waterfall in Yosemite National Park in America, they found that the mist-spray from the waterfall fills the whole area and when the sun shines through the trees it creates a circular rainbow around your body. The idea of an enveloping rainbow stuck with Groobey. In this painting, the power of the rainbow as a symbol of happiness, a path to prosperity (to a pot of gold), and a queer symbol, is coupled with the text, 'Get into my Rainbow', something Groobey said when she noticed the Yosemite rainbow around her waist. In the Get into my Rainbow performance we see Groobey surrounded by colours, showing us how it feels to stand in the middle of one of her large canvases and paint.
Painting Female Stallion, Groobey purposefully exaggerated her use of drips and droplets. Drips and drops, which in older series happened accidentally, begin to engulf Groobey's imagery as she layers them on top of an already excited surface of bubbling paint. While making the show, Groobey visited the Georg Baselitz retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, returning several times to look at Baselitz remix paintings. Baselitz, a self-professed Jackson Pollock fan, incorporated Pollock-esque drips into his remix style, taking Pollock's macho heroic drip gesture and fashioning it into his own macho anti-heroic narrative. Groobey began to question, if the drips represent ejaculation, and she had controlled her use of the drip in the past, what would happen if she let go and unleashed the drips?
"Is the drip a necessarily masculine gesture? Will it make my work macho?" - Kate Groobey, September 2022