Gisela McDaniel - Making WAY/FARING Well | Pilar Corrias

Gisela McDaniel’s women tend to wear proud smiles, adopt open and relaxed postures, and stare directly out at the viewer. They’re generally in company, too, sitting and relaxing in pairs and threes. They sit in lush landscapes, surrounded by tropical foliage.

Six of this artist’s paintings are currently on show at Pilar Corrias. The oil paint is embroidered by found objects - beads and fabrics, generally - strategically stuck onto the canvas. Each painting is contextualised by a sound recording, which reveals the backstories of some of the subjects. These proud women are survivors of sexual violence.

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By showing her women at their regal best, does McDaniel intend to celebrate their survival, or suggest her fantastic scenes are just that… a fantasy? The interview from which the sound recording is derived is the first part of each work: the artist then photographs the subject, and paints from the photograph.

In an interview with the gallery, McDaniel says: “When I’m working, I feel like I am still with that person. I recall our time together, our conversation. By the nature of the exchange, the portraits capture a moment of release, of moving forward through and from trauma. When painting, the eye contact, masks and audio seals this into the canvas.”

And she pointed out a detail that I missed when I visited the gallery: each of the women she paints have beaded masks, appliquéd onto their faces. How had this not made it into my notes from the show?

Maybe there was something about the hard direct eye contact they were giving me. The masks - these barriers - might as well not have been there.

Gisela McDaniel: Making WAY/FARING Well is at Pilar Corrias (London). 08 - 26 September 2020