Monday, 18 September 2017

Joanna Chroback

I came across this artist recently and immediately loved her work

Joanna Chroback is Polisih. Born in 1968 in Poznan - a beautiful city that I know well

                                                                                          From joanna chrobak

Friday, 15 September 2017

Magritte and eroticism

Master of Eroticism 
[Warning: this posting contains images of an adult nature]

RenĂ© Magritte (1898–1967) is one of the most revered and popular artists of the 20th century. Not only was he a major member of the Surrealist movement but his work and style have endured, profoundly affecting modern aesthetics and sensibilities. 

The Treachery of Images (1928/29)

Renowned for witty (yet often disturbing) images depicting everyday objects such as apples, bowler hats and pipes in unusual settings - Magritte’s art plays with the idea of reality and illusion. In the above painting it is certainly not a pipe; it is a painting of a pipe. 

It is this questioning of images and the placing of familiar objects in unfamiliar contexts that makes his art so subversive.

  Golconda (1953)

Magritte’s work has had an enduring effect on the art world, inspiring artists ranging from John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha to Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol

His impact has also been felt throughout popular culture. Musicians such as Paul Simon, film directors Jean-Luc Goddard and Terry Gilliam, and many writers and advertisers have all been influenced by Magritte’s famous images.

 Magritte by Duane Michals (1965)

His public image - that of a respectable, bowler-hatted Belgium (more like a bank manager than a Surrealist painter) - is wholly deceptive. He is very subversive and capable of shocking his audience at any time. His 'invisibility' behind his 'respectable' public image is part of the 'trick' and an effective way of keeping us 'off guard' so that the inevitable 'shock' of his art is more profound and even less expected.

The Lovers (1928)

His work is not only intellectually provocative but often sexually explicit, pushing the boundaries with each new painting. The female nude features far more in his work than one might at first suppose. In most cases, it is his wife Georgette who models for him.

Magritte met Georgette (Berger) when they were both teenagers. They were married in 1922 and thereafter - during a long an successful marriage - she remained his muse and principal model.


This photograph (above) is a study for a painting (below) in which Magritte finds an original and witty interpretation of the ancient Pygmalion legend of the artist who created a living woman through his art.

 Attempting the Impossible (1928)

However, Magritte's women are often iconic, statuesque and somewhat emotionally remote. They are objects  or  living statues  to be observed from a distance - untouchable, inviolate and emotionally neutral towards us, the observer beyond the frame.

Flowers of Evil (1946)

The figure above is clearly a statue (note the eyes) but the live flower and the way her hand rests on the rock left of frame subverts the notion that she is made of painted stone or plaster. We can see her but she can neither see us nor return our gaze, thereby making her an object of desire.

 Black Magic (1933/34)

This magisterial nude (above) is one of Magritte's masterpieces. The technical skill is extraordinary, not least the beautiful modelling of the head. Here the living, pliant flesh of the contemplative woman is juxtaposed with the immobility and solidness of the rock on which she rests her hand. 

Her susceptibility is represented, perhaps, by the way her upper torso has responded to the sky before which she stands.

Panel from  The Enchanted Realm (1953)

This iconic figure reappears in one of the large murals Magritte made for the walls of the casino in Knokke-le-Zoute in 1953. This work encompasses many of the major images from Magritte's painting career. What is remarkable is that these diverse images sit so well together. 

Thus far we have seen Magritte's depiction of women as iconic, somewhat statuesque figures that are emotionally remote and untouchable - as in the painting below:

 The Mask of Lightning (1967)

However, in a painting called The Giantess (below) Magritte creates a subtle variation on this idea. Here the statuesque woman is only a 'giantess' because the man is diminished in both size and stature. In relation to the room, the woman has the correct dimensions. This is a painting in which the relative, emotional relationship between the man and the woman is actually an issue.

The Giantess (1929/30)

Occasionally Magritte will adopt the role of emotionally involved voyeur - as opposed to remote observer. This emotional engagement with the subject often takes the form of fetishism, whereby a familiar object, such as a woman's nightdress, reveals what it normally conceals - namely the woman's sexual organs.

Philosophy in the Bedroom (1966)

Here the male viewer (and that now includes us!) is projecting his own desires onto a gown that is in itself 'innocent' of such sexual connotations. We have - whether we like it or not - fetishized the nightgown of the woman we desire.

Homage to Max Sennett (1937)

In the above painting this idea is taken even further. The sexual nature of our 'projection' is now wholly explicit. We - the viewer - are now implicit in a process whereby an object (in this case, our lover's nightdress)  is imbued with our desires. The impersonal nature of this transaction - in which the real, living woman has no obvious part - is what really makes this image so shocking.

Intermission (1927/28)

During the late 1920's and early 1930's a number of major Modernist painters were actively deconstructing human forms. In  Magritte's painting (above) called Intermission the action of the play has abruptly stopped, leaving the performers frozen in partial poses - a metaphorical dismemberment.

At exactly the same time as Magritte's experiments were taking place, Pablo Picasso was disguising his new, sexual relationship with Marie-Therese in a series of biomorphic drawings (Cannes, 1927) in which Marie-Therese's curvacious body is metamorphosed into sinuous, sexually implicit 'shapes':

Picasso - Bather at a Beach Cabana (1927)

Since Picasso's drawings were not published until many years later, it is unlikely that Magritte was directly aware of Picasso's new 'experiments' in the human form. This process of deconstruction also involved the 'departmentalizing' of the (largely) female body - as in Magritte's celebrated series of frames called Eternal Evidence (1930) in which a woman.has been chopped up into constituent parts.

The little sketch (above) is undated but it is clearly an early version of Magritte's most iconic (and shocking) painting - the one called The Rape.

 The Rape (1934)

Critics are divided as to the exact meaning of this infamous painting. Rene Passeron, for example, notes that 'far from being the spiritualization of the corporeal, [it] signifies rather the degradation to an object of sexual desire:blinded, deaf and dumb'.

Throughout his career, Magritte explored notions of painterly 'reality'. In my view, the real 'rape' here is one in which art has entirely subverted habitual or conventionally acceptable notions of the human form. 'Not content with reproducing the world of visible appearances on the canvas, [Magritte] seeks to transform it, to force it open.' (Marcel Paquet).

At an exhibition held at The Tate (Liverpool) a series of pornographic images by Magritte were shown for the first time. The exhibition was called Rene Magritte:The Pleasure Principle. It ran from 24th June to 16th October, 2011 and was the largest collection of Magritte's work shown in Britain for twenty years.

These explicit drawings were done to illustrate a book called Madame Edwarda (1946) by Georges Bataille. Founder of several journals and literary groups, Bataille was the author of a large and diverse body of work:  including three novels of an erotic nature, including Madame Edwarda in which a prostitute calls herself God.

Magritte (1960)

Any great artist seeking new ways to interpret 'reality' and to find original modes of expression within that 'reality' needs to explore human sexuality. It is, after all, at the center of our being.

What Magritte has done is not only create new and provocative ways of seeing but has challenged us, in a series of original and at times erotic images, to address our own notions of seuality, voyeurism and desire.

Mike Healey

Illustrations used above are taken from Magritte by Marcel Paquet, published by Taschen in 2012. The views and interpretations expressed in the above article are my own

For direct access to Marcel Paquet's excellent introduction to the art and life of Rene Magritte, click on the link below:

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Alice is changing!

The evolution and of an iconic image

This article is a brief attempt to map the evolution of a much-loved figure but one which has been subject to radical changes over time

Many artists have risen to the challenge of illustrating Lewis Carroll's two most celebrated books but none have yet acquired the iconic status of Sir John Tenniel's original drawings - subsequently engraved on wood by Orlando Jewitt.

While Tenniel was - for fifty years - principal illustrator for 'Punch' magazine, it is the 'Alice' books (1865 and1871) upon which his reputation rests

Indeed, Tenniel's 'Alice' is the only Alice that had Lewis Carroll's own seal of approval.
Despite having a head that is perhaps too large for her body, this image rapidly acquired general 'acceptance'

In a later edition, Tenniel allowed his original engravings to be colored - thereby determining for ever that Alice's dress was blue. Although allegedly modeled on Alice Liddell - the 'real' Alice - this child is older and has a thoughtful, somewhat quizzical look about her

What Tenniel captures so wonderfully is the surreal nature of  Alice's adventures underground. The startled look and position of both arms in the above illustration is subtle but also very effective dramatically

Arthur Rackham's 1907 edition marks a move to a more realistic representation of Alice

Rackham's own seven-year-old daughter Barbara may have been the original model but the young girl above is surely in her teens

What he also  brings to the table is a greater sense of drama, coupled with superior graphic skills. The swirl of Alice's dress in the above illustration is beautifully rendered - as is her startled expression.

This is a new and very real 'Alice'

Mervyn Peake 1946

One of the best modern artists to tackle Alice is Mervyn Peake.

He is, moreover, one of the first to raise the tricky issue of sex - a theme that is already an integral part of the Alice story, whether we like it or not.

In a recent biography, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst explores issues surrounding Dodgson's own sexuality. It does not make for comfortable reading

Not surprisingly, given our culture, subsequent 'Alices' rapidly acquired a thoroughly modern sexuality - quite at odds with Tenniel's prim and very proper, quintessential Victorian child

 In the above illustration by Brian Partridge, we have a confident Alice that not only returns the spectator's gaze but shows a 'nonchalance' in her body language that is almost provocative

Greg Hildebrandt's Alice (1990) takes this even further with an older Alice that is both thoughtful and a little remote. She is no longer a child but a young teenager

Indeed, as the story unfolds, she acquires further maturity, transforming into a somewhat thoughtful young  woman - even with a very long neck!

The temptation to add a sexual element - albeit unwittingly - is even present in Hildebrandt's sensitive illustrations:

Indeed, Alice's legs and petticoat acquire a graphic importance that far exceeds dramatic or narrative requirements and marks a trend that will become increasingly apparent

In more recent times, another trend emerges whereby Alice acquires the look and attributes of a puppet - as in the above illustration by Zdenko Basic

I particularly like this artist's attention to detail -  as in the rag-like clothing of his Alice figure below. Note also her hair that appears to be made of string:

This is part of a contemporary creative interest in 'dolls' that is now widespread, partly due to new modelling techniques and materials.

The illustration below is an example of what I mean:

There is something disturbing about these figures but it is, never-the-less, a legitimate art form that even has its origins in Surrealism.

That, coupled with a contemporary preoccupation with 'fairies' has given this  new art form an impetus that is quite astonishing:

Meanwhile, back on the Alice trail, some contemporary artists - such as puppeteer and film-maker Jan Svankmajer - merge a realistic Alice with a Mad Hatter that appears to be made of wood:

Salvador Dali also gives his Alice an abstract quality in a series of lush prints that are quite astonishing. I first saw the entire collection in Prague and was bowled over

Equally striking is the work of Julia Gukova (1991) who pushes this surreal element even further, emphasizing the psychological pressures that Alice must experience on her journey.

The illustration below has something of Kafka about it:

Note the differences in the orthognals (lines of perspective) on either side of the table, suggesting perhaps that Alice is teetering on the edge of alternative realities

In my own work on Alice I have tried to give an added dimension, partly sexual but also one in which Alice - returning to Wonderland as a young woman - discovers that much has changed and not necessarily for the better!

Indeed, I am forcing Alice to face her own emerging sexuality and to engage in modern sensibilities whereby desire, no longer sublimated, is squarely addressed

The problem of how to avoid creating a 'sexy' Alice is probably there from the start.

Indeed, Lewis Carroll himself photographed his 'child friends' in the nude. Although this was done under parental supervision it leaves a queasy feeling, especially when considering that this 'obsession' lasted throughout his adult life

Illustrators of the Alice books have themselves frequently fallen into this trap, some more blatantly than others:

Indeed, falling down the rabbit hole - with which the novel begins - has always been something of a challenge to illustrators

Sometimes it is depicted with great delicacy and graphic skill - as in the illustration below:

Often, however, it becomes merely an excuse to look up a young girl's skirt - a reflection perhaps of a modern obsession increasingly evident in Japanese 'comics' and other related forms of graphic yet widely published 'pedophilia'

These are not comfortable themes but Modernism has always pushed the envelope and an iconic figure such as Alice is an inevitable target perhaps for radical, even drastic malformations

It is at this point that another theme emerges, namely drugs.

 While opium may have had a medical use in Victorian times, contemporary illustrators have seized the opportunity present within the Wonderland books to exploit this idea so that Wonderland itself takes on an increasingly surreal, hallucinogenic quality that graphically, at least, gives enormous scope

Part of this process involves the demonization of the Mad Hatter himself - clearly a drug-crazed lecher intent on corrupting Alice

What is even more troubling perhaps is that Alice herself is not adverse to this process. She now shows not only a full awareness of her sexuality but a predilection to flaunt it:

The above illustration shows a 'Some like it hot' Marylin Monroe moment in which even a lecherous White Rabbit gets in on the act with an electric fan!

If that were not bad enough, she now acquires a demonic nature of her own in which sex and implicit violence join forces in ways that are quite disturbing

While this transformation of our beloved Alice may trouble some readers, it is the function of art to challenge all that is normative or 'established' and create new forms and sensibilities.

You may not like this process but you must admit that we have come a long way from Tenniel's innocent child to the sexually provocative, fashion icon shown below:

Mike Healey