Annette Bezor is one of Australia's most respected and successful artists. Over many years, her work has changed and developed, though it has always been of immense conceptual and technical strength. She has been principally a painter - exclusively so in recent years. Her painting has addressed female sexuality, the politics of gender, the use of symbols and the symbolic power of the image.
The classical and the modern images Bezor uses all idealise female beauty. They have become iconic, epitomising the objectification of the female in Western art over centuries, and also shaping society's perceptions of women and race, and constructions of gender, society and power.
Bezor's paintings thus raise many complex and contentious issues. We are reminded not only of how we represent women, but of how we tend to evaluate people through their appearance. We tend to be prejudiced against people who look different. The re-representation in these images prompts us to rethink our encounters with others. Stretching the faces and narrowing the eyes recalls, for example, plastic surgery, the use of cosmetics, even the mask of the actor who creates a persona through facial expression.
In Bezor's work, we see how we willingly manipulate ourselves to attain a different, ideal state, and expect others to fit our ideal. These faces recall the perfection sought by both women and men, without which, they believe, no form of intercourse can proceed. We are reminded that a person's appearance is so often manipulated for political purposes and that the public are thus manipulated.
Bezor's technique of representing these women has given them back their personal power. These women's faces fill the canvas - lacking a setting or background, they are seen both as pure form and pure idea, as abstractions. Bezor has used a computer to alter the faces before rendering them in paint. Thus mediated by digitalisation, their potential is both emphasised and denied. The endless replication, manipulation and transmission of an image through electronic media simultaneously normalises its values and emasculates its power. Capturing an electronic image in paint ironically reverses the processes of propagation and mutation of the image. But Bezor also uses repetition. She paints two, or sometimes more, versions of an image, and subsequent renditions of an image are often copied not from the source but from the first rendering. This process leads to an almost perfect copy, but there are subtle changes.
Repetition raises issues of authenticity, of commodification (both of the image and of the art object itself) and of the failure inherent in the concept of painterly verisimilitude. And repetition mimics the replicability and transmissibility of electronic imagery, doubling the irony.
By using painterly and manipulation techniques, Bezor expands her consideration of the depiction and objectification of women in the media and in art. In addition, she emphasises the question of women's sexual expression and their own desire. Bezor continuously adapts the conceptual and technical bases of her work to contemporary artistic thought and practice. Her use of appropriation questions the status of the image and correspondingly exposes our assumptions. The impact is not lessened - rather the works are transformed into something else, standing both as paintings in their own right, and reflecting on the condition of painting and on representation.
Bezor continues to change and develop as an artist. Her present work appears very different from the work of the 1980s and early 90s, influenced as it now is by contemporary media forms and values. She continues to present complex, multi-layered work, which is at once relevant to wide audiences and which embodies her own beliefs and responses to the world. Her great technical ability and personal sensitivity are the twin vehicles on which such adaptation and development are built.
Excerpt from www.bezor.com.au by Chris Reid 2001
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