Playful Anachronism

Playful Anachronism

Objects have held symbolic meaning throughout art history. For example, one portrait from the 1770s shows a brown-skinned young woman, dressed in a luxurious blue gown, holding a small, white, five-petalled orange blossom. In January 2020, the Art Gallery of Ontario acquired this rare picture of a woman of colour, Portrait of a Lady Holding an Orange Blossom, which is believed to have been made by Amsterdam-based painter Jeremias Schultz (c. 1722-1800). The flower is also in John Smibert’s (1688-1751) Mrs. Francis Brinley and Her Son Francis (1729), where the MET explains that it “symbolised both marriage and purity… Orange trees, although fashionable in Europe, were rarities in the colonies. The presence of one here reinforces the sitter’s wealth.” From affluence to innocence, it seems that objects have a lot to say.

Over three centuries later, photographer Romina Ressia (b. 1980) revives this tradition for viewers today. She blends time periods by giving 21st century props to 16th and 17th century sitters. Pieces reference Renaissance and Baroque works with richly adorned subjects posed against dark backdrops. However, they open popcorn bags and water pistols with a level of familiarity we would not expect to see. This surprising contrast between past and present is a hallmark of the image-maker’s visual style. It’s at the fore of her new show at the House of Fine Art, titled Mutant. If items say something about a person: What does a cheeseburger signify? How does a VR headset affect how we think about the man beneath?

Ressia’s work challenges our expectations. In one shot, a young woman poses in a black dress against a dark backdrop, the limited contrast blurring the boundary between foreground and background. This draws our attention to her uncovered face and hands. She appears calm and composed, casting a levelled gaze at the viewer. It’s a point of contract with the water pistol in her hands, a glaring anachronism in bright blue, green, orange and yellow. This minor element throws our understanding of the time-period into disarray, an effect that sits at the heart of Ressia’s practice. Elsewhere, she presents stern-faced characters who pose with everything from toilet plungers and plastic cups to Rubik’s cubs and popcorn bags.

The lens-based artist is inspired by the styles and colour palettes of 16th and 17th century masters, such as Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Velasquez. Referencing them is a way for her to transcend time and traditions to create something entirely new that nods to the past. She applies the seriousness of these paintings to moments that are part of our contemporary everyday. In an interview with Francisco Rosario for Musee, the artist states: “My work is more influenced by ordinary life.” Mutant is a living dialogue, showcasing the artist’s journey through time, memory and the boundless possibilities of creative expression.

The House Of Fine Art, Romina Ressia: Mutant | Until 9 April

Image Credits:

  1. Romina Ressia, Portrait with Sunglasses, 2013, Signed and editioned on verso, with signed COA, Archival pigment print, 30 x 20 cm, Edition 1 of 1.
  2. Romina Ressia, Big Gulp I, 2023, Archival Pigment Print, 105 x 140 cm.
  3. Romina Ressia, Portrait with Toilet Paper , 2022, Archival Pigment Print, 75 x 100 cm.
  4. Romina Ressia, Lying on the Table Signed and editioned on verso, with signed COA, Archival pigment print, 30 x 20 cm, Edition of 2.
  5. Romina Ressia, Pop – Corn , 2013, Signed and editioned on verso, with signed COA, Archival pigment print, 150 x 100 cm.
  6. Romina Ressia, Woman with a Water Pistol II, 2013 Signed and editioned on verso, with signed COA, Archival pigment print, 150 x 100 cm, Edition 1 of 1