Painted in 1999, Le Jeu du Destin possesses the inimitable blend of realism, expressive spontaneity and surrealism that is so characteristic of Austrian artist Maria Lassnig's work. Her painterly practice firmly grounded in self-portraiture, Lassnig has eschewed conventional figurative representation, fusing observational drawing with abstraction as a means towards a fuller sensory and psychological expression. Darkly perceptive, in Le Jeu du Destin she has envisioned herself in the guise of a colossal Poseidon, conjuring before us a fearsome illustration of the game of fate. Mouth agape, the mighty mythical God rises from the tumult of a dark indigo tidal wave, torso ablaze with fiery orange, sightless eyes bulging as it grasps boats greedily in its skeletal white hands. The psychedelic chimera is intensely subjective reflection of the artist's own subconscious. Lassnig's profound engagement with the body's inner sense has a particularly potent manifestation in Le Jeu du Destin, informed by her preoccupation with her own awareness of self when she paints, aiming to portray how she is feeling in her own skin, and which parts she can sense while painting. Painted directly onto the white of the unprimed canvas, the raw colours jostle for attention; each stroke of paint is deliberate, each mark as intensely felt as the next.
The physical body has been the primacy source for Maria Lassnig's work since her student days, for it is a subject matter that she believes is ideal because it can never be exhausted. The immediacy of her subject creates the freedom and unpredictability that lends palpable dynamism to her work: 'I step in front of the canvas naked, as it were. I have no set purpose, plan, model or photography. I let things happen. But I do have a starting-point, which has come from my realization that the only true reality are my feelings, played out within the confines of my body.' (M. Lassnig, http://www.hauserwirth.com/exhibitions/25/maria-lassnig/view/, [accessed 1 May 2013]). It is this enduring honesty and discipline that leads to such powerfully expressive work such as Le Jeu du Destin, which portrays a striking mix of helplessness, anxiety, power and strength.
The speed and energy of her brushstrokes, which have the spontaneity of a drawing, reflects Lassnig's quest to capture precise sensations with her radically subjective painterly vocabulary. It is an emphatic rejection of the static tendencies of conventional figurative painting, and an invigorating exploration of the imaginative and subjective territories that painting is able to explore; a bold example of Lassnig's endeavour to fix 'small feeling: the sensations in the skin and nerves', through the medium of oil paint (M. Lassnig, '1000 Words: Maria Lassnig talks about her exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, London', in Artforum, Summer 2008, p. 406).
Born in 1919, Lassnig's conceptually and formally varied body of work bears the traces of a diverse artistic trajectory. She was trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in post-war Vienna, before spending several years in Paris in the 1950s and 60s, where she was exposed to Art Informel and Surrealism. Between 1969 and1980 she lived in New York producing a series of remarkably inventive film animations. A pioneer of the avant-garde, Lassnig has produced fresh, original and highly independent work for over a period of 60 years, an accomplishment that has just been recognised with the award of the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the 2013 Venice Biennale.