A Tale of Mother’s Bones: Grace Pailthorpe, Reuben Mednikoff and the Birth of Psychorealism review

Art
4 out of 5 stars
A Tale of Mother’s Bones: Grace Pailthorpe, Reuben Mednikoff and the Birth of Psychorealism review
Reuben Mednikoff, No Title (3 January 11am – 4 January 6pm), 1938. Oil on panel. Collection of James Birch.

We’ve all got mummy issues and daddy issues. That’s the whole point of parents: they mess you up enough that you spend the rest of your life striving to prove them wrong. Hell, my parents said an art history degree would be a waste of time, now look at me! Sure, I’m poor and miserable, but I showed them.

Grace Pailthorpe and Reuben Mednikoff wanted to do more than just prove their parents wrong, though, they wanted to use their work to explore childhood trauma and how it manifests throughout life. Pailthorpe was a surgeon and Mednikoff was an artist, together they embarked on a career of drawing, painting and mutual psychoanalysis. They fit perfectly into the surrealist scene of their time – dream-obsessed, sexual, scatological and totally Freudian – and created a fascinating, semi-scientific body of work.

Mednikoff is the better technical artist. He paints and draws big tubes and vessels that leak and spill and lick and suck. He’s described as an ‘ex-baby’, a man filled with resentment towards his parents and sibling, longing for his mother’s love. His figures are constantly grasping for breasts, or contorted and dribbling, made of actual faeces or impossible bits of architecture.

Pailthorpe is less accomplished but more interesting as a result. Her naïve figures are constricted and bundled up; she saw herself as a prisoner of the womb, a vicious pink blob kicking against restrictions from conception to death. There’s so much anger in her work.

The duo also saw how their approach could tear at ideas of violence in an age of war, how therapy and drawing could lay bare the roots of hate.

The Freudian psychobabble can get a bit tedious, and there are bad works here (the bengal cat by Mednikoff is heinous), but most of what you see veers between interesting and excellent, and the lino cuts are fantastic. You get a sense of two people who wanted desperately to understand each other and the world around them, and felt like art was the only way they could do that. It’s just like spying on someone’s therapy session: fascinating, horrifying, and – most of all – worryingly relatable.

LiveReviews|0
1 person listening