When seeing Relm’s paintings for the first time, it can be a bit overwhelming. Her art doesn’t fully come alive at the first impression, but rather after taking in all other elements. The portrait paintings are whimsical and distorted, but behind the bright colors and soft skin lies something almost macabre. Taking inspiration from neoclassical artists such as Vigee leBrun and Jean Honore Fragonard, Relm breathes new life into the old style. She unravels their bucolic and ethereal characteristics and wraps them in a modern edginess. Interestingly, the self-taught, Canadian-based, New York artist hasn’t always been a painter. Her background is in fashion design and her models show it. Though her figures are predominantly nude, each one is stunningly gorgeous, despite some of the grotesque attributes they depict.
Relm goes to extreme lengths to bring out the finer details of her subjects. Those painstaking details play wonderfully with the filigree, the hair, and flower petals that ensconce the portraits. In addition, she weaves delftware and traditional Chinese paintings in her art. Hair becomes murals and lips become porcelain. To contrast some of these pieces, paintings like Bridesmaid and Low Tide display the playfully soft blushes of pinks and greens where the background fades out like a dream. The separate styles certainly show Relm’s versatility as an artist.
In various ways, the models become deconstructed by grotesque alterations. The subjects’ hair becomes houses or murals, even muscle, sinew and skulls. Their torsos are distorted by vegetal growth and skin is stripped away to show braided muscle-matter. One painting even shows a face becoming a hive full of bees. While many of the subjects show conventional beauty, Relm obscures much of it. Some of the models’ eyes are impossibly colored and skin is peeled back to reveal slimy tentacles. Regardless of the alterations, the perfectly modeled women still hold their femininity. Relm dives into this with sensuality and hedonism as she paints lesbian erotica that seems both playful and forbidden.
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