Esther Solondz at Gallery NAGA

Jolie Laide: I wasn't sure what you looked like

By: - Jan 03, 2024

Esther Solondz
Jolie Laide/ I wasn’t sure what you looked like
January 5 - 27 at Gallery NAGA
Jolie Laide: I wasn't sure what you looked like is on exhibition from January 5 through 27. A reception for the artist and the public will be held at the gallery on Saturday, January 6 from 4 to 6 pm.
The continuing evolution of Esther Solondz’s fascination with portraits and transformative materials is expressed in her new work. For the past 20 years, she’s worked with suggestive half-here, half-there images made with substances that evolve over time. In her current exhibition, Solondz is using ink, which she drops onto wet paper. This allows for a certain amount of control but also happy accidents as the ink moves and pools in unforeseen ways. 

The exhibition is comprised of grids of ghostly portraits, some with animal-like features, others appearing as magicians (rabbits included), and still others tender renderings like a grade-school photograph. The portraits give the impression that they are antique; they are faded and aged as if they come from a past century. Who are these people and where did they come from? A question Solondz has been trying to answer in her work for the last thirty years.
Asked about the title of the exhibition, Jolie Laide: I wasn’t sure what you looked like, Solondz explains,
My friend Tina Cane, a poet, suggested the title Jolie Laide, which means a strange unconventional beauty. Literally jolie laide means "pretty-ugly.” In trying to respond to this question I looked up jolie laide online and found an article by Daphne Merkin published in 2005 in the New York Times that was quite helpful. Here’s a quote from it that elucidated the concept far better than I could have:

"Jolie laide aims to jog us out of our reflexive habits of looking and assessing by embracing the aesthetic pleasures of the visually off kilter: a bump on the nose, eyes that are set too closely together, a jagged smear of a mouth. It points away from the kittenish, pliant prettiness of Brigitte Bardot toward the tense, smolderingly imperfect allure of Anouk Aimée or Jeanne Moreau . . .  Jolie laide recognizes that behind the visceral image lies an internal life. In that sense it is a triumph of personality over physiognomy, the imposition of substance over surface."

As for the “I wasn’t sure what you looked like,” I think it was my way of saying that I wasn’t starting out with an idea about where these would go. They did not begin fully formed in my mind, as I did not know who they were or what they looked like. They evolved.

Images of work to be exhibited by Esther Solondz can be seen at