Based in Fife, Kirsty Whiten’s portraits of the ‘imagined anthropological’ recall the writing of Pliny, the mythological figures summoned up by Homer, the psychoanalytic Wolfman, and the moralist paintings of Hieronymous Bosch. In her own words, Whiten makes ‘frank images of people, dealing with their psychology and socially constructed behaviour; making the viewer aware of the sexuality, control and neuroses underneath appearance [...] I aim to discomfort the viewer by presenting a character very directly and intimately’.
These are paintings that, unlike Bosch, are secular prostrations of the human animal: savage, but by no means noble, civilised but only inasmuch as it is able to repress it’s instinct. In short, Whiten’s work unspools the surreality of human self-image. In her series Sexyland, the artist makes the genteel brocading of the 19th century stately home co-habit the much more beastly act of masturbation. The series is a kind of visual homage to the first chapter of Michel Foucault’s seminal text The History of Sexuality, titled ‘We Other Victorians’, and, like that text, is akin to hearing a deeply repressed secret loudly broadcast on national television.
These recurring clashes are perhaps partly to explain why, as admitted in a recent interview with The Scotsman, Whiten is ‘often unsure where she fits in’. And perhaps the liminality her works remind us of (or, better, that they revel in reminding us of, however much we might squirm), the narrow gulf between a tableau of morals, cultures, practices that have qualified and excepted the human vs. their presumed absence in the kingdom of beasts, ought make us equally unsure of where it is we ourselves ‘fit in’.