How much freedom do I have? How much freedom do we have? These are questions Victoria Cantons often thinks about. It was suggested to her that her work is psychodramatic, it’s something that still crosses her mind when she is reviewing her work. Painting, she says, exists at the intersection of three precarious, uncertain elements: language, the world and the self. Language is never wholly hers; the world she can only know in a partial sense; the self is a malleable and improvised response to the previous two. If her work is psychodramatic, Cantons does not think it is because she has so many feels, but because the correct balance and weight to be given to these elements is never fully in her control. It is this self — whose boundaries are uncertain, whose language is never pure, whose world is incomplete — that Cantons tries to paint from and to.
Whilst the works are not painted from memory, they are linked directly to memory. Cantons keeps notebooks, sketchbooks and photographs and has a multinational, cultural and religious background, as well as having studied drama and performed in productions of Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams and Oscar Wilde. All of this is referenced to create an exploration of identity, self and representation of the human form; emotional and psychological states of alienation, disconnection and connection; presence and absence. Cantons says “I am not a transgender female artist but rather an artist who happens to be a woman and transgender. Having lived and worked whilst being perceived to be a man and now being understood and recognised as a woman has given me a rare perspective. I want to understand as much as I can about what it means to be human. We are not just the clothed person we present to the world. We have many faces. We are defined by our response to experience and our relationship with each other. These aspects connect us all and yet we are also unique individuals.” She believes painting is, amongst other things, what Francis Bacon spoke of as “A tightrope walk between figurative painting and abstraction” — this includes a balance not just of a figurative style with pictorial elements but also an exploration of the composition space, of the line and the language of painting. There’s an encounter between the giving to the painting and what the painting is giving back. Victoria Cantons’ hope is for an audience who, like the her, maybe wonders how free they really are, and who takes it for granted that looking involves all the same liberties and demands as painting.