Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Mik Healey - Retrospective 2

 Paintings You May Not Have Seen
Mike Healey

As I have explained elsewhere on this blog, I am currently rewriting a short story of mine called Journey to the dark side of the Moon

To that end I have been going through my portfolio to find paintings that might serve as illustrations for that story

Here are a few that you may not have seen before:

 Urban Angel IV

  Green Persephone

Galaxy Prostitute

Persephone and Mother

These are quite old and most of them are sold but I think some of them have potential for my story.

A new version of Journey to the dark side of the Moon will be available on Amazon  in June


Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Picture of the Month

Rembrandt's celebrated painting (1642) is the subject of Peter Greenaway's film 'Nightwatching'  starring Martin Freeman

The film explores events leading up to this commission and the nature of the Dutch militiamen who wished to be immortalised in a group portrait

During work on the painting, Rembrandt stumbles upon what appears to be a cover-up of a murder committed within the ranks of the civilian 'regiment'

There are other disturbing events within the militia's ranks, including one of its members using an orphanage for young girls as a brothel

The finished portrait therefore contains clues to the 'accidental' death of one of the members of the regiment, thereby exposing the dark story that lies behind this celebrated group portrait

According to Greenaway, the scandal associated with his 'exposure' of murder within the regiment's ranks had a profound and deleterious effect on Rembrandt's subsequent career

Greenaway has also produced a documentary film associated with this film -  'Rembrandt's J'Accuse' (2008)  - in which he provides 33 pieces of 'evidence' for his theory

Both films are currently available in one DVD from axiom/films

Mike Healey

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Brewery Arts, Kendal (UK)
An exhibition of paintings, drawings, collages and dioramas by

20 April - 22 June, 2018

It is widely thought that western civilisation owes its origins to cultural developments in ancient Greece

While historians acknowledge that Greece was probably subject to some influence from northern Europe, ‘Western Civilisation’ as we know it clearly sprung from the indigenous peoples of the Greek city-states and islands, subsequently shaping the Italian Renaissance and its later ‘re-discovery’ of all things ancient.

'Classical' Greek representation of Zeus

However, this ‘Aryan’ model is now highly contested and would appear to be largely the product of late 18th and early 19th century scholars anxious to reject long-held notions, not least by the ancient Greeks themselves, that Greece derived much from both the Phoenicians and the equally ancient civilisation of Egypt. 

Greek statues were painted, often in lurid colours

This scholarly suppression (mostly German) of non-European influences is, some have argued, racist and, above all, anti-Semitic

The Afroasiatic origins of Greek culture were first explored in detail in Martin Bernal’s controversial book ‘Black Athena: the Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization’ (Volume 1, 1987) in which he locates the origins of many ‘Greek’ myths, for example, in North Africa. 

Vase painting of Dionysus

He argued that Greek culture was initially shaped by these foreign influences and developed further by Phoenicians actually colonising Greece during its long history

'Hades, king of the Underworld'
Mike Healey

In this exhibition I will draw on this notion, giving Hades, King of the Underworld a Tuareg complexion while Persephone has a distinctly Egyptian appearance 

'Persephone' - work in progress detail
Mike Healey

This is contrary to ‘iconic’ images we have of these mythical characters based on white marble statues from ancient Greece or Rome

My Venus, for example, is also very different and captures – or so I hope – an atavistic and distinctly pagan sexuality not found in ‘classical’ Greek or Roman sculptures

Mike Healey

The two myths that most interest me are those associated with Dionysus (whom the Romans called Bacchus) and Hades’ abduction of Persephone

Dionysus, called 'Bacchus, god of wine' by the Romans

My Dionysus is a far more dangerous figure, associated with death and sexual indulgence and whose female followers would dismember any man who witnessed their secret rites!

'Libation' by Mike Healey

More details about this forthcoming exhibition will be given nearer the day but meanwhile put 20th April, 2018 in your diary!



La Lecon de guitare, 1933

My choice this month is Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski de Rola,1908-2001). This brilliant artist is one of the great Modernists yet he remains hugely controversial, not least for his subject matter.

Balthus was of Polish extraction. As a student he studied tempera wall paintings in Florence and from 1930 to 1932 lived in Morocco.

He moved to Paris in 1933 where La Lecon de guitare brought him instant fame - and notoriety!

Although primarily known as a painter of young, pubescent girls in 'erotic' poses, he was also an accomplished landscape artist, with a delicate colour sense and fine draftsmanship

I particularly like the above landscape, begun in 1941 and
finished in 1945

La Sortie du bain, 1957

However, it is a painter of the female form that Balthus is best known.

This beautiful painting (above) of a young girl emerging from her bath is equal, in my view, to anything by Matisse or even the late chalk or crayon drawings by Degas

Nu devant la cheminee, 1955

I have only ever seen one drawing (crayon on paper) by Balthus and it was this elegant study of a young girl in front of her mirror. The simplicity of its design and the clean lines of both figure and room
make for an enchanting picture

It also reveals a key component of the girls in Balthus' work, namely their utter self absorption in themselves

Although some critics have considered this painting (above) erotic, it is the girl's absorption in her pet cat that gives the languor of her pose its naturalness

An early sketch for this painting (below) is less emotionally charged, the focus being the girl's concentration on her pet cat whose paw emerges over the top of her chair or mirror

True, there is always a hint of voyeurism in these paintings and the suggestion of a (female) figure by the window in the finished oil painting, probably gazing at the girl, adds unease to this otherwise 'innocent' picture

La chambre, 1952-53

The idea of a nude figure being deliberately exposed to view is more explicit in the above painting.
Here a strange, dwarf-like female opens the curtain, flooding the room with saffron-coloured light that exposes the girl in what could be a post-masturbatory sleep

While, to a third party (i.e the viewer) this might make this picture blatantly erotic, in my view it represents the girl's possible guilt and  her own fear of exposure at her emerging sexuality

 This famous painting of a young girl exposing her legs whilst reclining on a bench is frequently seen merely as an erotic pose designed to titilate the viewer

In my view this is completely wrong.

Again, it is the girl's self absorption that renders her pose innocent and little more than someone aware, perhaps, of her own burgeoning sexuality - something any parent will recognize in their own daughters

Which brings us back to The guitar lesson

The notion that the girl is somehow being abused is in my view completely wrong.

The child's languid pose, peaceful smile (her eyes are closed, as if she were asleep) and  left hand straying towards the woman's exposed right breast suggest to me that this is a dream in which the girl herself is fantasizing about her 'teacher'

A crayon sketch dated 1949 (some fifteen years after La Lecon ) yet called Etude pour La Lecon de guitare is more difficult to explain

Here a male figure pulls the girl's clothing away with his teeth, his eyes resolutely fixed on her genital area while his right hand grasps the girl's arm in a dominant grip

Assuming the date (1949) is correct, then this is an entirely different treatment of the subject and one which some of us might legitimately find disturbing

Balthus died in February, 2001.

He was revered by other great artists - including Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse, and writers such as Andre Gide, Jean Cocteau and Andre Breton

Illustrations for the above article are taken from Balthus by Jean Clair and published by Flammarion in 2001

To find this book and others, click on the link below


Thursday, 28 December 2017

Coming soon to this blog....

This iconic statue is by Degas and is one of the most celebrated works of that great 19th Century artist

While we are probably familiar with his paintings of dancers at the Paris Opera, behind the making of this wax figure lies a much darker tale of grinding poverty and failure and the wealthy men who exploited these vulnerable young women

Come back soon to find out the true story of this young dancer and her creator



Tamara de Lempicka

In the 1920's in Paris, London and New York, Polish-born Tamara de Lempicka was the most fashionable portrait painter of her generation 

 Her notoriety and fame endure and today she is collected by modern 'celebrities' - such as Madonna

Her style has been described as 'soft' Art Deco although other critics refer to the influence of French painter Maurice Denis and the earlier nudes of Ingres

Her works are cool, clean, polished yet with an underlying sensuality that partly explains their popularity with the wealthy Parisian set who posed for her and who bought her paintings

Tamara was herself something of a beauty. She added to her society allure by being bi-sexual and notoriously active sexually - she knew Violet Trefusis, Vita Sackville-West and Colette

In Paris she was a leading figure in the Bohemian 'movement' and although married and with a young daughter, had numerous affairs

There is, however, something coy about her nude figures. Sensual, yes, but verging on elegant, soft porn - hence their appeal, no doubt.

In Ingres the languid poses are more natural, less contrived than in this (above) adaptation by Lempicka but her technical skill and seductive lines proved hugely popular with her Parisian clients and she could command high prices for her portraits of fashionable men and women

Since glamour was an essential part of her work - as indeed, it was part of her life-style - one should not perhaps look for any depth to her work

Although some claims have been made that she depicts free and independent woman within a male-dominant society, these woman are 'free' only by virtue of their wealth - and because, perhaps, they have rich and indulgent husbands

When she paints 'ordinary' women - as in this (above) strange portrait of a Mexican girl in rags, Lempicka lapses into a sentimentality that is particularly unappealing

This ghastly portrait of a weeping nun is probably one of her worst paintings. Later, as her popularity faded, she became more abstract, trying to capture (unsuccessfully) something of the originality of the Surrealists she had met in Paris

At her best - despite the 'posed' nature of her paintings and their incipient sentimentality - she was an exceptional artist 'of the moment'

Her importance lies perhaps in her remarkable ability to capture that moment in Paris between the two great wars when the rich and famous rubbed shoulders with genuinely great artists like Picasso, Miro, Braque and the Surrealists

Mike Healey

The illustrations used above are taken from this book, available from Taschen

Something old, something new

Spring cleaning has come early!
Rooting through old files recently, I found the following images of earlier work 
I thought I might share them with you!

This collage  (above) was done for a stage poster, long since lost I'm afraid

I rather like this little pencil drawing. It was a study for a much larger oil painting called 'Jealousy'. I had no idea when I started drawing what I was in fact drawing - it just turned out to be this winged rider on a strange horse!

Since then I have painted it again, this time in charcoal and gold paint. 

This photo collage  (above) on acrylic is a study for a portrait of Icarus - the man in Greek legend who flew too near the sun

This picture includes gold paint which is often difficult to handle but seems to work here

The image above is a detail from a large canvas - and my first attempt to work by dribbling paint onto the canvas

What works well here for me is the 'depth' such a painting can achieve, with the eye being drawn deeper and deeper into the recesses the paint forms

Finally, a photograph of a corner of my studio in Carcassonne, SW France where most of the above paintings were made some seven years ago


Friday, 15 December 2017

New Work
I have just completed this painting

It has no title as yet but goes back to my early career in the theatre - as Associate Director of the Oxford Playhouse

It is not a very good photograph I am afraid but I will take another in better light tomorrow!

Mike Healey