In Scratching the Surface Eugenia Raftopoulos examines the meditation of feminine identity and the impact of visual media on individual identity. This is realised as a series of figurative paintings using motifs of cavities, blockage, emptiness and elements of abstraction as metaphor to manifest a psychologically charged response to the superficial aspects of an image driven society.
Scratching the Surface
The futility of everything that comes to us from the media is the inescapable consequence of the absolute inability of that particular stage to remain silent. Music, commercial breaks, news flashes, adverts, news broadcasts, movies, presenters—there is no alternative but to fill the screen; otherwise there would be an irremediable void…. That’s why the slightest technical hitch…becomes so exciting, for it reveals the depth of the emptiness squinting out at us through this little window. – Jean Baudrillard.
The female subjects of Raftopoulos’ photorealistic portrait paintings bring to mind the cosmetic advertisements of glossy fashion magazines; they could easily be one of the girls you see on a billboard or the wall of a bus shelter. They are the iconic glamour girls of a visual culture that pervades the reality of our everyday lives. Sontag made the observation, that that one of the “chief activities” of modern society is “producing and consuming images” (1) and Deboard located this visual culture “at the very heart of societies real unreality”. (2) Baudrillard coined this phenomenon ‘hyperreality’ identifying it as a condition in which the divisions between reality and the imaginary have become blurred.(3)
In a contradicting narrative, the advertising images propagated through visual culture tell us that we can be whoever or whatever we want to be, yet we are inadequate and need to compensate for this inadequacy with the purchase of the product on offer. In short visual culture sells identity and the identity being sold in this case, is a simulation of a perfected female fantasy self.
If this is the message, these portraits short-circuit it. The fantasy is intercepted by erasures that have been made on faces of the subjects, revealing in one case underlying gestural paint strokes, in another exposed canvas and another an image of an empty room. Raftopoulos informs that these interruptions to the image are all preconfigured in Photoshop. “Using digital imaging to enact this violence upon the image is intended to counter balance the (Photoshop process of) digital surgery that is performed on the source material to touch-up and perfect images.”
These erasures are made over the eyes of the subjects; this obscuration of identity plays on the western cultural trope that connects the ‘eye’s to the ‘soul’ alluding to an absence of interiority. Raftopoulos extends on the conventions of portrait painting to enforce this notion of absence. Alphen describes portraiture as “bringing with it two referents…the portrayed body in material form… and the inner essence of the sitter”. (4) These disruptions expose a lack of what Alphen refers to as “inner essence” revealing the emptiness Baudrillard refers to as ‘irremediable void’.
Sophia Wright, 2014.
1 Baudrillard, J. (1990). Cool Memories, Verso.
2 Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography, Picador, p, 119
3 Debord, G. and K. Knabb (2013). The Society of the Spectacle, BUREAU OF PUBLIC SECRETS.
4 Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation, University of Michigan Press.