Eris Silke is a gifted, but erratic, 'outsider' artist of Hungarian extraction and Israeli upbringing whose self-dramatising, narrative themes and meticulously detailed illustrative style both appear remote from contemporary artistic concerns.
Her world is one of ghoulish Gothic fantasy that often casts a compulsive stranglehold over the viewer. The self-taught artist works predominantly in black and white, using a crisp-focus style reminiscent of Victorian illustration. A flawless miniaturist.
When Silke transcends her own narcissistic self-absorption, she is capable of producing poignant meditations on the traumas of Jewish history. Her portrait of her mother, a holocaust survivor and cancer sufferer, is certainly the most potent work on this show. Dressed to the hilt in sumptuous couture, this aged and ravaged lady is all bitter grit, pride and stoicism as she confronts the world with a wary, disenchanted stare. Sadly, such humanity and psychological depth are the exception, not the rule in 'Dreams and Obsessions'.
Silke's overriding concern in both life and art is the propagation of her own personal myth. To enact this, she has devised an extremely studied persona that she inhabits in daily life, and commemorates in her painting. As her art and her person coincide, the critic must perforce ask who and what Eris Silke is.
The artist is an exotic ex-beauty queen who projects conflicting signals of erotic endowment and waif-like vulnerability. Despite her conversational gifts, one never feels one knows the real Eris for the flamboyantly theatrical eccentricities of her conduct and dress smack of artifice and role-playing.
Art too fails to reveal the real Eris for, what she records is a romanticised mental construct of herself not the reality. The paintings are boudoir masquerades in which Eris is perpetually sacrificed upon the altar of male lechery. Man is a defiler, slaking his vampiric thirst on the artists' bleeding neck in Lovers, and boorishly mounting her with his boots on in Making Love to the Dying.
The inspiration is clearly obsessional, and the problem with Silke's obsessions is that she cannot see through them or beyond them, and thus the auto-therapy implicit in her painting is without redemptive effect. There is no catharsis. Her art memorialises obsession; it does not exorcise it. Consequently the paintings are static and without capacity for growth and renewal.
Silke has always embedded tiny paste gemstones into her pigment, creating an opulent effect that enhances the precious appearance of her workmanship.
Techniques formerly deployed with subtlety, degenerate into gross mannerisms, and the glass eyes she plants on her faces create a jarring effect and deprive the physiognomies of meaningful expression.
Painting the frame to integrate it with the painting often produces a sorry mess of streaks and smears. The artist appears to be so wrapped up in her own lurid and panting sexual fantasies that she has lost all critical faculty and allowed her work to lapse into shaming self-disclosure.