Black Captain, 2012
acrylic fibre, oak frame
154 x 114 x 6 cm

Renee So’s practice is distinguished by its embrace of craft methods and cross-cultural thinking, an underlying sense of the comedic, and a persistent feminist worldview. While So’s early work used motifs of bearded men, full bellies and boots to explore popular archetypes and representations of (mostly) masculine authority, she has increasingly turned to representations of women’s bodies, drawing on artistic precedents from prehistoric to modern times.

The sixteenth- and seventeenth-century German Bartmann (‘bearded man’) or Bellarmine jugs that So encountered in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum have been a dominant source of inspiration for her ‘knitted paintings’ and ceramic objects. Playing with these forms and up-ending them in ways reminiscent of playing card illustrations and anthropomorphic ceramic traditions, she also introduced vulnerability through inebriation. Working at the turn of the seventeenth century, Japanese artist Kanu014d Naizen’s gold-leaf and tempera paintings on lattice, called Namban screens, c.1606, depicted European contact with Japan in 1543. As So notes, ‘I like that the scenes are seen through an Asian gaze . . . The European dress of baggy pantaloons, black tights, hats, capes, ruffles and flowing gowns would have looked totally odd.’

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