Strange Feelings by T.S. McNeil

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One of the oldest known artistic forms, it can be a challenge for those practicing figurative art to do something that is really their own, there a certain sameness to the medium, the traditions and techniques for ‘proper’ portraiture set centuries ago. One artist breaking the mould is Vancouver-based painter Mandy Tsung. 

Often dreamlike and always out of the ordinary, Tsung’ style can often be accurately described as ‘surreal’ even by the strict criteria laid down by André Breton. Veering from straight-forward portraiture to outright world building to make Boris Vallejo blush, there is aways something interestingly off kilter in her style. Eye-popping colors a general feature no matter what the subject, Tsung is also known for rendering unusually large eyes, similar to those of Margaret Keane, minus the kitsch factor, that are striking and unsettling in the same instant. 

Inspired by all the ‘captivating women’ in the media round her growing up, Tsung is a storyteller as much as someone who simply renders, seeing the subjects of her paintings as characters, once stating in an interview: “The characters in my paintings are meant to be emotive, to communicate personal stories that are open to interpretation by the viewer in whatever way speaks to them. My hope is that they will come away with a new understanding of themselves and other people.” 

Representative of her more ‘straight-forward’ work the portrait titled Cherry Girl has something different about it. In addition to the expected stark realism, there is also a sort of border drawn between the realistic and cartoonish. Despite the image being rendered entirely in paint on wood, the woman depicted is reminiscent of real, living flesh right until her clothes get involved. The top she is wearing looks like it was pulled directly from the page of a modern comic book, particularly one illustrated by Gene Ha. The pillows behind her, in contrast, are more ‘painterly’ in a more stereotypical way, each bump and layer of the brush stroke plain to see. As to the story told, it is plain from her expression that something has just happened, probably not good, and it is down to the viewer to decide what. 

Way more in the land of what-the-heck, though only in the more evocative way is Whirlpool. Depicting a nude woman, in a style that is both realistic and animated, in the middle of an ocean scape, the pink and blue mountains of the shore visible in the distance, the strangeness is immediately apparent. Rather than being ‘in’ the water up to her neck, as one might expect, the sea appears to have made way for her, but for one strangely sheet-formed length of wave, wrapped around her form to protect her modesty as she looks back at the viewer with eyes that could make some cry. Surrounded by jellyfish in the water around her, there is one, rather large one, attached to the side of her head, either in terms of an attack, or a hint as to the truth of her nature. 

Born in the far north, T.S. McNeil was attending art galleries before he could walk. Earning concurrent degrees in Art History and Political Science, he has written on Arts and Culture both in print and online since 2002, starting while still in college. He lives in a cabin in the woods with his dog, and firmly believes that Marie-Gabrielle Capet was criminally underrated.

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