Soft Focus

July 11th – September 7th 2024
Soft Focus

July 11 – September 7, 2024
Opening: July 11, 5 to 8pm

Sonya Derviz
Merveille Kelekele Kelekele
Rachel Lancaster
Lyne Lapointe
Sam Lipp
Nour Malas
Karice Mitchell
Athena Papadopoulos
Sequoia Scavullo
Adelisa Selimbašić
Shahin Sharafaldin
Manuel Axel Strain

Bradley Ertaskiran is pleased to present Soft Focus, an exhibition featuring the work of twelve international artists. Inspired by questioning what a portrait can be, the exhibition probes how figures come in and out of view, treating the genre as a source of possibility, subversion, and power. Ranging from sculpture, painting, and photography, to mixed media, these works explore the portrait as a means of how to be seen within a vast range of conditions. At times, they omit the figure altogether, invoking the unnameable facets of lived experience. Whether depicting tender moments, empty rooms, bodies in motion, or invented forms, the exhibited artworks often divert from the human realms entirely into something haunting, dreamlike, or outside of our tangible world.

Many artworks carry with them a sense of longing, captured through brief or hazy moments. Sonya Derviz creates moody, monochrome portraits in charcoal and oil on linen. The soft contours of her reposed figures bleed into the background, while dark, drowsy eyes stare eerily out at the viewer. Pulling from archival editorial images, Karice Mitchell’s prints show glamorous snippets of skin, which with their pixelated contours build a sense of pleasure, sex, and control through concealment and intrigue. Sam Lipp uses various tools to layer oil paint on steel, creating a soft, veiled effect. The screws poking through the metal canvases combined with seductive advert-like content—here, a bare shoulder and a glossy anti-anxiety medication label—recall commercial signage, with a tinge of intimacy. Rachel Lancaster’s realistic paintings emanate a gentle glow, showing glimpses of the mundane—a collarbone, a sweater hair tucked behind an ear—like remembering a specific but fleeting detail of a person from memory. 

Several artists use portraiture as a tool for personal introspection and storytelling. Adelisa Selimbašić explores views of the body through everyday scenes, often portraying ambiguous features for consumption. Her work evokes the narrative of a continuous scroll of parts rather than wholes. Manuel Axel Strain prioritizes Indigenous epistemologies through the embodied knowledge of their mother, father, siblings, cousins, aunties, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandparents and ancestors in their work. In one canvas, eyes float apart from their sitter, with fish leathers hung beneath the frame, while another depicts a classical but defiant red nude, their face shrouded by an embellished rock inspired by pictographs. Shahin Sharafaldin’s paintings feature meticulously layered brushwork in vivid tones, showing mystical people and spaces as stand-ins for love, death, and yearning. In his haunting scenes of empty interiors, for example, there is a sense of presence through absence.

In other works, the distinctions between dream and nightmare, human and supernatural, are unclear. Nour Malas’ paintings harness thick, almost bloody brushstrokes, in which swathes of bold colour and shadow seem to emulate the cavernous depths of the underworld. Superimposed textures and shapes comprise Sequoia Scavullo’s abstract paintings, and sometimes, recognizable motifs or bodies peek through, like familiar elements revealing themselves during a vivid dream. 

Merveille Kelekele Kelekele’s large-scale paintings are fantastical and psychologically charged, embodied in multi-face beasts with claws, horns, and gangly limbs, mighty and mad against their acidic backdrops. Using wood, ink on paper, and other materials, Lyne Lapointe fashions magical solitary figures with collage techniques. Athena Papadopoulos’ personified mixed media sculptures are worlds unto themselves; stuffed textiles, synthetic toys, and everyday goods are assembled into tentacled creatures who seem to swallow everything before them, a rich portrait of a life told through things. 

In photography, soft focus originated from a technical flaw—a lens imperfection that hindered the photographer from capturing a clear picture of their subject. Here, this lack of clarity (or inability to capture) serves as the impetus for the selection of work in this exhibition. Whether it be through evoking an actual sense of movement, absence, nostalgia, empowerment or concealment, these artworks evoke the elusive qualities that hover just beyond the frame.

Artwork by Sonya Derviz courtesy of Sherbet Green; Artwork by Rachel Lancaster courtesy of Workplace; Artwork by Lyne Lapointe courtesy of Jack Shainman and Galeries Bellemare Lambert; Artwork by Sam Lipp courtesy of Desrosia NYC; Artwork by Nour Malas courtesy of Carbon12; Artwork by Karice Mitchell courtesy of Franz Kaka; Artwork by Sequoia Scavullo courtesy of sans titre; Artwork by Shahin Sharafaldin and Manuel Axel Strain courtesy of Unit 17.