Ilona Szalay: Witness at Arusha Gallery, Edinburgh

Ilona Szalay: Witness at Arusha Gallery, Edinburgh

Beirut-born award-winning painter Ilona Szalay presents a selection of new work made especially for her first solo show to take place in Scotland, at Arusha Gallery, Edinburgh, which coincides with Edinburgh Art Festival. Szalay has become renowned for her trademark oil on glass paintings, which incorporate a street art style in gentle pastel colours as well as her heavy, impasto-like blacks and greys. For this exhibition she creates freestanding works on glass to be set in front of the gallery’s Georgian windows; often shown as lightboxes but here lit just by natural light, these comprise a series of 14 self-portraits, which explore self-consciousness and notions of beauty, control and surrender.

Each of Szalay’s works is intended to have a certain ambivalence and subjectivity, with strong poses confused by uneven brushstrokes, translucency and uncertain facial expressions. Despite presenting an extremely contemporary figure, often in thigh-high boots and at times with a gun pointed at her, the works hark back to Japanese ink paintings with their pools of black – a complex mix of traditions.

In addition to her works on glass, Szalay’s bright oil on board pieces remind of the archetypal pin up: they are confrontational, bold, and often engaged in strange acts. Lust for example, which sees its young protagonist staring down at an octopus, which lies on a table between her knees; or Injury, whose grazed little girl is patched up by two figures whose intentions become alarming as they are marked out in such startling reds. In surreal and everyday scenes, Szalay’s painting technique gives rise to questions and concerns for her vulnerable seeming subjects in these fascinating narrative works.

Ilona Szalay: Witness, until 31 August at Arusha Gallery, 13A Dundas St, Edinburgh EH3 6QG.

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1. Ilona Szalay, Lust, oil on board, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Arusha Gallery, Edinburgh.