October 13 - November 03, 2023
When making the eight paintings for her solo show at NBB Gallery in Berlin, the British artist Sophie Vallance Cantor found herself burned out. A state of being so overworked that one no longer has the same enjoyment or enthusiasm for life, this burnout was a breaking point for Vallance Cantor during which she reassessed her priorities.
As a result, Vallance Cantor resorted to solely focusing on subjects that were of the highest importance to her: her partner Douglas Cantor and her two cats, Autumn and Luna. At the same time the term “burnout” also refers to a motorbike stunt of spinning the rear tire whilst the bike is stationary, creating a cloud of smoke, a vivid visual metaphor for mental burnout. And indeed, Vallance Cantor includes motorbikes in her work as symbols of strength, freedom and resilience, a nod to the influence of her partner’s culture on her life and as a visual contrast to the dramatic standstill of mental and literal burnout.
The dominant painting in the exhibition is the three meter wide portrait of a red feline (‘Burnout’, 2023) - a colossal portrait of one of Vallance Cantor’s cats. This monumental scaling of the exhibition’s subjects creates a dramatic sensory experience, and evokes the sensation of watching a large cinema screen. “I wanted the paintings to feel like scenes from a film and how, as viewers, we can feel sucked into another world, another story,” explained the artist. Vallance Cantor playfully uses the observer's viewpoint, simultaneously inviting us to perceive her world while being kept at arm's length. Her figures are often looking over their shoulders, almost observing us back, generating a tension between the scene on the canvas and the viewer.
The cinematic atmosphere of the works is also intensified by the depiction of neon lights, a motif synonymous with New York, Vallance Cantor’s ultimate setting for an alternate telling of reality. The soft glow of neon permeates the ambiance of the works both through direct depictions of iconic New York signage, and in less obvious ways like the intimate glimmer of shared cigarettes or the radiating edges of tigers where fur blurs into the surrounding canvas. The resulting exhibition of dreamy scenes populated by glowing felines, and motorbike chases ends up being ‘a reality I would rather inhabit more than my real one’.
Immigration is another recurring topic in Vallance Cantor’s work. Titles of the exhibited paintings, such as “Illegal Alien Kiss” and “No Fights Till We Get the Passport,” refer to the personal circumstances of Vallance Cantor’s partner Douglas as an immigrant, their navigation of the immigration system and the impact it has had on their life together.
In the paintings Douglas is playfully and sarcastically portrayed as ‘El Diablo’ (The Devil), a not-so-funny inside joke about the way he is perceived as an immigrant in the western world, a narrative that is quickly flipped on its head as El Diablo is depicted in the paintings as protective, calm and in control. This is Vallance Cantor commentary on her partner's reality, the abuse, suspicion and restriction he encounters from both individuals and structures, but also the commitment that keeps them together.