“The ‘demon’ is a personified word to describe me,” says 21-year old artist Elsa Rouy of her new exhibition, A Demon in a Sundress. Since THE FACE spoke to her earlier this year, Rouy has opened her second solo show with five brand new paintings and sculptures, the works telling a narrative of a “‘monstrous’ woman penetrating, stretching, tearing, fingering; basically, consuming her current sexual and intimate counterpart.”
Front and centre of the UK’s emerging art scene and part of GUTS Gallery’s bursting roster, Rouy’s work has been celebrated for its nightmarish depictions of sexuality, intimacy and dark fantasies. Often, it’s personal, as it is in A Demon. “The exhibition’s narrative was influenced by various ways I have viewed myself,” she says. “The themes were much more to do with thoughts that I have had rather than real-life events, but of course, your thoughts and how much importance you hold to them can affect your perception of yourself and can affect your life in real ways.”
Rouy emphasises taboo subjects in her work, often presenting expressive paintings of bodily fluids, periods and the female gaze. “My personal relationship with this and the realisation that it is a somewhat universal experience spurred me to use it as a narrative point – a kind of ‘fuck it, there’s no need to hide it’. If people get offended, so what?”
Amongst the paintings, which feature Rouy’s warped demonic bodies, post-sex scenes and blood, lies a commentary on sex, straying far from the smooth and glossy ideals in porn. Rather, the artist questions the moments when sex isn’t sexy at all. “Sometimes there are mental and physical disconnects,” she says. “This plays a lot into being human. Relationships with ourselves and others aren’t always easy. Nothing ever is.
“This plays into womanhood and femininity – sometimes it’s scary and gross,” she says. Instead, Rouy questions who should define womanhood, and how it should be characterised, whether it’s gentle, sensitive, gracious or the opposite. “My experience [of womanhood] hasn’t always been this,” she adds. “I think my new paintings are a closer representation of the diversity of my personal experience of femininity and womanhood.”
While Rouy has explored bodily fluids in her past work, she’s taken them in a slightly different direction this time. Breast milk becomes violent, with blood superimposed “in a way that’s aggressive and uncontained to subvert the usual connotations of protection and purity from female bodily fluids.”
Alongside her paintings, Rouy is also showing two new sculptures – a disfigured body lies on the floor made using latex, muslin and human hair. “One of my friends has bright blonde hair, so when covered in latex it takes the colour and provides texture,” she says. But it was also a way for her to bring people closer to her work. “It makes the work more personal to me, but also brings a sense that these could be representative of anyone.”
The overarching theme of the exhibition? “These new pieces are a more scary sexuality,” she says. “A rawer one that is more than skin deep. They show a type of sexuality that you can be scared of within yourself.”