Emily Ferguson

Pursuit of Happiness

Kantor Gallery proudly presents Your Spirit, My Butterfly, Emily Ferguson’s first solo exhibition, on view from Saturday, July 23 through August 19, 2022.

A butterfly and a teenager are one and the same; to survive, both have to master the art of camouflage and mimicry after stumbling from cocoon to adulthood. Like adolescence, the insect exists as a myth and a dream. They are persistent totems of our own elusive memory and desire, popping out in front of us without warning and floating away just as quickly.

Unlike humans, butterflies have the biological capacity for infinite variation, ever-changing even after it kills their own body for something new and beautiful and maybe strange. The Los Angeles-based artist Emily Ferguson has emerged from her own sort-of chrysalis in her debut show of 14 oil-on-canvas portraits at Kantor Gallery.

The collection is a triumphant ode to form and the divine feminine, a burst of kinetic vibrancy and what the artist calls “editorial energy.” Drawing on her days as a fashion model, she culled images from ‘90s magazines and the perenially-nostalgic interwebs, where baby bangs, wired headphones, and Prada Sport windbreakers have become symbols of the Golden Age Thinking aesthetic. Here, Emily Ferguson just might be Gen Z’s answer to Alex Katz or Ed Ruscha.

Look to Metamorphosis (2022) as the nucleus of this exhibit, nymph-like and caught in a tornado of hair and foliage, she remains triumphant against the fire. Color contributes to the story-mood just as much. Yellow feels wistful, blue is chilling, and orange and red a bit more violent. Together, the contrasting colors bounce off one another in a sports-like symphony.

A self-taught painter, Ferguson had to abandon all rules about technique and theory to find this new style. She moved into a studio of her own (doing Virginia Woolf proud) in 2020 and began to interrogate the kind of painting she was getting high praise for—contemporary scenes and references steeped in an Instagram readiness— in a vision quest for the personal and non-derivative. The result is a triumphant form-breaking debut. Portraits are less of the moment, more ethereal and anachronistic, each an extension of Ferguson, who subscribes to Swedish artist Mamma Andersson’s directive that every painting is a self-portrait. Of who you really are, or wish to be, or want to see. Some version of a kind of love you want to believe in.

Find the butterfly. Find it in the paintings and in life. In Your Spirit, My Butterfly, sometimes the insect will be caught in hair, resembling a Y2K accessory that’s enjoying a revival today as more than a trend. The secret meaning behind the butterfly hair clip eschews coquettish and plastic associations and irony altogether; it’s a reclamation of girlhood, in all its silly and cute juvenility.

Hair is important to Ferguson, who comes from a family of hairdressers. In painting and on bodies, hair often signals power (re: Samson) but also freedom. To a woman, especially, it’s all-encompassing. And while the faces behind these portraits may seem flat or stagnant, in repose, for now, hair will always tell the truth. It moves on, like a butterfly, even after these women are caught in limbo. After all, even after we die, our hair continues to grow.

Written by Mariella Rudi

“Your Spirit, My Butterfly, ” is on view from July 23 – August 19, 2022. For any inquiries or book an appointment to view the exhibition, please contact info@kantorgallery.com