Light Holding: Jenna Gribbon | Massimo de Carlo

I was so impressed with Jenna Gribbon’s vigorous handling of oil paint in this tight, tense exhibition. Her virile brush strokes mercilessly expose her main subject - her partner, and according to Twitter, soon-to-be wife - in full-face portraits.

Heightening the tension, in many of these works, like M in Blinding Light, below, the subject has a bright clamp light directly shone in her face. That’s the light that’s being held. M flinches away from us; Gribbon doesn’t flinch. The thick whorls of luminous paint pick out exposed details: there’s something of Eric Fischl in the confidence and verve of this artist’s painted skin.

Jenna Gribbon - M in Blinding Light

Elsewhere, M is framed by the artist’s open legs, and in a smaller painting (Cramps) she slumps grumpily on a sofa, hot water bottle clutched to her pelvis. Gribbon’s single-minded focus on female discomfort made me think of another American painter, Shannon Cartier Lucy, whose work I’ve admired here before. That said, there’s a certain intensity and seriousness that sets Gribbon apart, an intensity that’s expressed in that clamp light, which appears over and over in the paintings. Sometimes, M holds the light and points it back at us. There’s also a cute painting of Gribbon’s unimpressed-looking son holding the light (S Lighting Me).

Finally, in Two Mirrors the clamp light is dulled, doubly reflected as the title suggests, picking out a pretty yellow pattern on the wall. Only one of the pair of lamps pictured is switched on, and the one shining the light isn’t pointed at anyone. Instead, it’s dim enough that the picture as a whole can be bathed in deep red light. Artist and subject pose separately, one in each mirror.

Jenna Gribbon - Two Mirrors

It’s a scene of domestic comfort, at last. Totally unlike those full-face portraits. The thing that brings all the works together is the abiding sense of intimacy. And, of course, that vigorous handling of the paint; those virile brushstrokes.

I have to say, the fact Gribbon was holding a smartphone also gave me hope that she painted those other unflinching, lamp-lit portraits from phone pictures too, as otherwise they’d have been a nightmare to sit for!

Light Holding: Jenna Gribbon is at Massimo de Carlo (London). 20 January - 26 February 2022