Fragments of knocked over red wine glasses, half-empty green bottles, leftover spare ribs, cakes and uncontrolled figures characterise the visual world that the London-based artist Olivia Sterling lays out before us in her new exhibition Your Cheeks Are Wine, as though we viewers were on a first date in a restaurant or flirting at the bar. Filled with people interacting and intimate bodily relationships, the paintings are a colourful spectacle of various desires: without so much as a fully recognisable face, the bodily postures and hand gestures simultaneously convey a longing for affection, more food and quite possibly for more wine.

The pulsating luminosity of the colours in the works underscores the feelings present in the paintings – their effect is not only beguiling, but it raises alarm bells too. This ambivalence recalls scenes from films like La Grande Bouffe (1973) and Delicatessen (1991), or drinking sprees of the wine god Bacchus. The images are pervaded by a sense of unease: exuberance and discomfort are closely intertwined in the scenes of seemingly ordinary nightlife. A sentiment accentuated by the strong colours: clashing and mutually defining high-contrast fields of paint framed by dark contours. While the people in the image are eating and drinking in public places, they seem to become remarkably similar to the things they consume. —Tuula Rasmussen