Liz Maw

Venus from Hell

Venus from Hell by Liz Maw

Artwork Detail

Venus From Hell was painted over several months in the presence of a life model, better known as Nicky Watson. A local Auckland celebrity, Watson is best known for her notorious marriage and divorce from businessperson Eric Watson.

What is extraordinary about this work is how vividly Maw conveys the likeness and interior psychology of the sitter. Despite the apparent symbolism of both the religious references to the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, and exaggeration in her anatomy, she affords Watson (a figure we know more for her presence in glossy magazines) a rarely seen inner life. The portrait to this extent is an argument for the ongoing capacity of painting in a highly visual era, to capture invisible human essence.

Watson's artificially enlarged breasts are initially a confronting focus for both artist and audience (and by implication society). It is only through experiencing the work in person, and the complex expression of the figure, that the viewer is engaged in the more dynamic affect of the portrait painted from an ethereal never land and the inner life of this modern-day divine.

The artist Liz Maw was raised a Catholic, and her paintings are often a complex mixture of contemporary subjects and references from historic religious painting. In an attempt to create a new order of icon painting, she mixes the faces of celebrities or people she admires, with pseudo-religious symbols, often displaced by a "mystic glow", through colour, stars and light.

Venus from Hell
Liz Maw
Production date
oil on board
3055 x 1065 x 105 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2009
Accession no
Copying restrictions apply
New Zealand Art
Display status
Not on display

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