Portraits of Perception: Gazing into Ellie Pratt’s ‘Taste Maker’

CAROLINA TANI reviews the latest offering from Slade graduate Ellie Pratt– mangled reflections on the female form, and the voyeurism essential to viewing. 

What do you think about when you look at your reflection? That is the question that British Artist Ellie Pratt ponders the answer to in her new exhibition titled Taste Maker, taking place at the South Parade Gallery. Pratt’s works have a deep, thoughtful, and yet familiar atmosphere to them. She exposes to the viewer her intimate self, with a series of paintings exploring distortion, deformity, and the overwhelming complexity of the female face. However, even the most mangled pieces manage to portray a sense of simplicity and relatability.

The View, 2023. Oil on canvas, 60 x 50 cm, image courtesy of South Parade.

The paintings are twelve, some small enough to force you to get close, and some so big you need to take a step back. A specific painting, The View, is set up low under a window, compelling you to crouch down to admire it. But perhaps most peculiar is A Souvenir, whose marked location on the map is separate from everything else. It took a moment of looking around to finally realize its unconventional location: the bathroom. Merely by the disposition of the works, this exhibit can introduce the ever-present theme of looking.

Afterbirth, 2023. Oil on linen, 40 x 30 cm, image courtesy of South Parade.

In works such as Afterbirth, Pratt deconstructs the classic portrait genre by emphasizing one specific element: eyes, which are circled with red-like scars on a woman’s face. Three paintings bear the same name, Reflection 1, Reflection 2, and Reflection 3. They show a collage of various fragmented faces from which no expression transpires, except in the piercing stare of each pair of eyes. Through these representations of observing women, Pratt convey a feeling that viewers aren’t used to being on the receiving end of: being watched.

A Souvenir, 2023. Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 cm. Image courtesy of South Parade.

Taste Maker offers a captivating duality: it’s a hunt and an escape, you are looking and you’re being looked at. Ellie Pratt isn’t just showing us what she perceives when looking at her reflection, subject to her own eyes, but is revealing how the action of being observed is omnipresent. Suddenly we are in a frame, subject to a myriad of eyes and unforgiving stares.

The exhibit is accompanied by a short essay by writer Emma Firth. She composes a wonderful exploration of what different women feel and think when looking in the mirror, along with the doubts and insecurities that come with the burden of being perceived, by others and ourselves. Pratt’s visuals and Firth’s words create a charming combination, like pieces of a puzzle falling together to complete the memorable image that is Taste Maker.

Ellie Pratt: Taste Maker is on show at South Parade: Unit 7, Griffin House, EC1R 5BU. 28 September – 11 November (extended), Wednesday-Saturday 12-6 p.m.. 

Emma Firth’s accompanying poetry is really beautiful, and can be read in full here.

Puncture (Recoil), 2023. Pencil on paper, 29.7 x 42 cm / 34.5 x 47.5 cm. Image courtesy of South Parade.