Glasgow-based painter Sophie Vallance has just finished her second solo exhibition, Bad at Life (Good at Painting), at London's Guts Gallery. Featuring images depicting moments of reflection and averted gazes, her work acts as an antidote to her experiences as a neurodivergent person.
If you live with Autism or know someone who does, you'll be familiar with the difficulties it presents. Sometimes it can feel like everyone else around you knows what's going on while you're struggling to make sense of the rules. To flip this dynamic around, Sophie Vallance's paintings invite you to see the world through her eyes.
In her paintings, the viewer is invited to see her world from her perspective, but they aren't allowed to partake in it. Instead, they remain the perpetual outsider and can witness a series of inside visual jokes that haven't yet been explained to them. It's an effective simulation of what it's like to navigate the world as a neurodivergent individual.
These visions include scenes and memories from Sophie's life that have been warped and exaggerated to present them anew. Domestic cats become blown up into unnaturally coloured tigers and panthers, and anxieties are manifested as real monsters lurking in the shadows of jungles and restaurant bars.
Her paintings aren't leaden with despair, though. While living with Autism undoubtedly comes with its struggles and challenges, Sophie has countered this and provided a more rounded experience of what it's like to be neurodivergent by presenting moments of joy and stillness. These elements of poise, bravery and tenderness are all too often left out of conversations about Autism, so it is refreshing and vital to see them represented in her paintings.
Stillness is also a running theme in Sophie's paintings, whether that's a person pausing before taking a bite out of a burger or enjoying the feel of their forearm as they have a smoke (complete with a symbolically loaded feline tattoo on their bicep). These moments are captured and made immortal in her paintings, and the thick, sumptuous strokes of oil paint that are applied to her work in wet on wet layers add to the feeling of joy Sophie is experiencing while creating.
Another recurring theme in Sophie's paintings is a lack of eye contact. This trait is often seen as an early indicator of Autism, and it is represented here by averted gazes or eyes hidden behind sunglasses and eyelids. Again, this helps put the viewer into Sophie's shoes and gives them the feeling they are being watched by the outsiders.
Sophie's most recent exhibition featured her working chair and coffee-stained, cat hair covered rug as central installation pieces to display the physical aftermath of making. And they also acted as another reflection and meditation on the works and the artist's presence in the space.
Don't despair if you didn't catch Sophie's paintings this time around, though, with selected works being frequently displayed in London, Edinburgh and on the continent. It won't be too long until her work finds its way in front of you.