Night nurse

Well, you gotta start somewhere...first the blogosphere, next Bollywood, then Cannes and maybe even Fyshwick!

Frowned objects (of desire)

There is nothing more endearing than a frowning woman. My feminist readers throw their hands up in horror at this blatant objectification of  women. Guilty your honour. It's just something about that 'look'. Here are some of my favorites. Two seem in control. Two seem vulnerable. What do you think?

Caravaggio, Judith and Holofernes, 1599, Oil on canvas, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

Fillide Melandroni removes the head (and aspirations) of Michelangelo Merisi in this decisive moment from the Old Testament story of Judith and Holofernes. 

Fillide was one of Caravaggio's favourite models appearing in at least three of his paintings. Painting directly on to the canvas without first sketching, Caravaggio, using himself as the model for Holofernes, has created a masterpiece of psycho sexual drama. X Ray examination has shown that originally she was bare breasted. But it doesn't take much imagination to visualise this, and to leave her without the blouse may have relegated this picture to the crassness of Vasari's Andromeda. Also an interesting similarity between her earring and the necklace worn by Manet's Olympia...
But it is her face that I am interested in. The furrowed brow, the moist lips, her horror at what she is doing and yet unhesitatingly committed to the task. Scary.

Louise Brooks by Eugene Robert Richie

Louise Brooks, somewhat anachronistic 'star' of the silent era (in that she hated Hollywood and preferred to make films in Europe, and who resisted pressure to cross over into 'talkies') is mesmerising. To see her play the tragic Lulu in G W Pabst's Pandora's Box (1929) is essential viewing for anyone interested in film and what qualities make someone a 'star'. For 130 minutes one is transfixed by her presence...

In this still Louise is repulsed by the attention she receives. She is not acting. Abused as a child and in her own words, "incapable of real love", she is paradoxically femme fatale but unreachable at the same time. And as style icon? Light years ahead of the pack...

Carmen Amaya, Queen of the Gypsies. I first came across Carmen when scouring through second hand records. A face like this stands out in a crowd. I bought the record not realising at the time she was accompanied by the great Spanish guitarist Sabicas. I had always liked flamenco but never really appreciated what was going on until seeing Paco Pena and his company in concert.

The duet with male dancers was like an elaborate mating ritual. All the female dancers had an expression that was as practiced as their steps. It said, "if you think you deserve me, then you had better perform better than what you are doing at the moment!". And of course, they try, but never seem to conquer the fiery independence of the women. Passionate stuff...

Jelena Dokic. Tennis star. Poor Jelena. As if having a fascist nutter as a father wasn't bad enough she just never seems to be able to crack the big matches. No wonder she looks pensive...

...but then she wins a point and it's all about revenge of the Croatians. It could be Judith again, brandishing the sword of Holofernes...

Perseus and Andromeda

By way of contrast to the complexity, subtlety and mystery inherent in Olympia, Giorgio Vasari's Perseus and Andromeda (or Story of the origin of coral) is a classic example of Renaissance pseudo-eroticism...

Giorgio Vasari, Perseus and Andromeda, 1550-52, oil on slate, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

What is going on here? Beheadings, bondage, bathing nymphs, exhibitionism, lesbianism, drownings, sea monsters. Never meant for public view this painting appears a veritable feast or perversions, or is it? Originally designed as a door to a cupboard whose contents would be in some way related to the subject matter (perhaps a collection of coral which was seen as a good luck charm), it is in fact illustrating the myth as told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses. Perseus...

...made a bed
Of leaves and spread the soft weed of the sea
Above, and on it placed Medusa's head.
The fresh seaweed, with living spongy cells, 
Absorbed the Gorgon's power and at its touch
Hardened, its fronds and branches stiff and strange.
The sea-nymphs tried the magic on more weed
And found to their delight it worked the same,
And sowed the changeling seeds back on the waves.
Coral still keeps that nature: in the air
It hardens; what beneath the sea has grown
A swaying plant, above it, turns to stone....
Then to his heart he took Andromeda,
Undowered, she herself his valour's prize.

"It's odd, I always thought I made men uneasy"

The first in a series on masterpieces of erotic art...

Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863, Oil on canvas, Musee d'Orsay, Paris

The title of this post is a quote from Victorine Meurent, the model for Edouard Manet's Olympia...

She stares at me. I stare back, embarrassed to take my eyes away from hers for fear of being seen as a voyeur. But I cannot ignore the petite, porcelain, perfect figure. The cat is clearly not impressed by my presence. The maid holds flowers. Are they a gift from me? Will they be accepted, or discarded?

She looks at me with detachment and a slight bemusement. Manet has made me confront my own sexuality by inviting me to participate in this picture. This woman is not for sale...I can admire but not touch. Not only a superb exercise in painting (the form in the figure achieved with true economy of tone), but an exercise in moral standards and the role of women in society, just as relevant today as it was in the nineteenth century. This is what makes Olympia erotic, not the fact that it is a nude...I feel uneasy.

For the Victorine Meurent story I recommend Alias Olympia by Eunice Lipton, Thames & Hudson, London, 1992.

Early Twentieth Century Erotica in Spain

Every now and then you come across these little treasures...and pleasures...

A Virtual Wunderkammer: Early Twentieth Century Erotica in Spain is a site put together by Amanda Valenzuela at UCLA to accompany the book Cultures of the Erotic in Spain, 1898-1939 by Maite Zubiaurre. Highly recommended...

Just a little taste to prove that Friday 13th can be your lucky day!

Adam shoots a blank while Bill hits the spot

When I started this blog I made a decision not to yield to the temptation of bagging out everything I didn't like. To do so would leave little time for anything else. But, I couldn't let this one pass without comment...

Last year the so-called enfant terrible of the Sydney art scene Adam Cullen got busted for drink driving on the Hume Highway. Police also discovered a stash of unlicensed firearms in the boot of his car. You and I could get 14 years in the can for this offence, but Cullen got off with a suspended sentence because some people think he's collectible, he has bipolar disorder, and he was using the weapons to make 'art'! The magistrate tells Cullen to develop "mental hardness". Cullen's motto is "Endurance is more important than the truth." Your correspondent sees red...and immediately thinks of  El hombre invisible.

William S Burroughs: "That's an interesting little juxtaposition"

William S Burroughs wasn't the first artist to use guns in art. He recalls conversations with Marcel Duchamp in which Duchamp had shot at paintings but missed because "he was a very poor shot." Surrealist Joseph Cornell had constructed a work in 1943 using a bullet holed piece of glass. Italian Alberto Burri had shot paint cans in front of canvasses in the Fifties, and Yves Klein and Niki de Saint Phalle had done variations of this into the Sixties. And the list could go on...but none of these artists have realised the form as much as Burroughs did from 1982-88.

William S Burroughs, The Curse of Bast, 1987

Burroughs says "I want my painting to literally walk off the god damned canvas, to become a creature and a very dangerous creature." In firing a gun at a picture Burroughs is not just exploring a technique but holding a mirror up to society. Even now his art and writings still present us with a frightening view of our future if we allow ourselves to be controlled by conservative attitudes and institutions. Burroughs is mentally hardened. He is a twentieth century giant who has incessantly fought for the liberation of creative thinking and processes, as well as mankind. He is a genius. Burroughs will endure, and remain truthful to himself and his audience. Cullen will not. 
Final score: Adam Cullen 0 - William S Burroughs 10.

I am indebted to the publication: Ports of Entry: William S Burroughs and the arts by Robert A. Sobieszek, Thames & Hudson Ltd 1996

Eros & Thanatos

Bob Georgeson, Holy Grail, 2010. Photomontage. Private collection.

An Easter present...

I have been asked on occasion about the process that leads to works such as this. I collect images that I like, thinking that one day they may be useful. They are cut out using a scalpel and cutting mat. The subject matter follows in the dada/surrealist tradition of sex and death, religion versus freedom. There is nothing particularly original in this. Call me stuck in a time warp if you like but in so far as art is concerned I think that very little of interest has been done since the dada revolt and the demise of the surrealist 'movement'. For me the surrealistic aesthetic lives on!

In this picture the background takes views of the dome in St. Peters basilica and throws them together in a distortion that creates two circles (life and death). The crucifix came from a photo of a site in Europe where a massacre of the innocents had taken place...I can't remember exactly the location. It just happened to be the right tones and size although I did like the chains as an added double entendre. The stockinged legs and rather ample derriere are courtesy of Lucy L'Vette, a porn star who specialises in legs, feet and nylon fetishes. What is it about a pair of shapely legs in black thigh high stockings that is so universally erotic? 

The communion cup's origin is unknown, possibly also from the Vatican. It just happened to fit the composition with the cross at the grip aligning nicely with Lucy's backside. The position of her head aligns with the genitals of Christ and the receptacle of the chalice. Out comes the spray's glue time!

Holy Grail is from the Brides of Christ series...

The inspiring, the woeful, the moving and the brilliant!

A brief cultural journey...

First stop was Gallery Bodalla, where Linda Childs - van Wijk was exhibiting a lifetimes work in an show mysteriously called the naive eye. At first glance Linda's paintings are presented in a 'primitive' form, but closer inspection reveals an conceptual sophistication and technical rigour that belies the show's title. Fascinating pictures that invite you into the mind of their creator. The Gallery is also one of the most delightful 'spaces' I have been in, and matched by the charm of Director Valerie Faber, who has a social conscience and is not just interested in profit and power when it comes to art. Inspiring...

Linda Childs - van Wijk, Beyond midnight, acrylic on canvas

Next stop was ANCA Gallery in North Canberra, where the warm fuzzy glow dissipated seconds after entering. The show Material World - extraordinary environments made from ordinary things was a shocker and reflected everything that is wrong with contemporary art. The two bright young things that 'curated' this show say in their introduction, 'the artists have seized the opportunity to remind us of the responsible use of energy and technology, the need to recycle, reuse, reforest and, above all, to respect.'  Well, how about respecting the intelligence of your audience? A twig sculpture? You must be kidding...Another work was so clever that it was hidden from view, another required the use of  a smartphone (not supplied) in order for it to work. Art you can't see, music you can't hear. I must be getting old. Woeful...

Fortunately spirits were revived with a visit to the National Library of Australia to see the Treasures Gallery, where major pieces from the National collection are on display. Having recently read about Cook's voyages it was a treat to see his portable writing bureau, and to imagine him charting the oceans and writing his journals on such a small surface. Jan Utzon's model for the proportions of the Sydney Opera House was a beautiful object in itself, and intriguing in its concept. Photographs from immigrant detention centres lent a sobering note. I have always been fond of maps and the early charts of Dutch explorers are as graphically pleasing as they are historically interesting. Moving...

Attributed to Abraham Anias (1694–1750), Chart of the Indian Ocean 1730

Displayed in the foyer on the way out was a copy of Helmut Newton's SUMO, the largest and most expensive book produced in the 20th century (by favourite publisher Taschen of course). Newton is very high on my list of influences. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, the book was open on a portrait he had taken of art critic Robert Hughes...I would have much preferred one of his more perverse images ;-)

Then off to the National Gallery of Australia to see Renaissance - 15th & 16th century Italian paintings from the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo. An outstanding exhibition in every way. Not only a rare opportunity to see the 'real deal' up very close, but a superb lesson in art history and techniques. From International Gothic through to late Renaissance one could trace the transition from tempera on panel to oil paint on canvas, and the development of human representation from idealised form to actual portraits of real people. Standouts for me were Mantegna's Saint Bernardino of Siena...

Andrea Mantegna, Saint Bernardino of Siena, c.1450

...absolutely dripping with piety...and the four works by Lorenzo Lotto:

Lorenzo Lotto, Portrait of a young man, c.1500

Lorenzo Lotto, Portrait of Lucina Brembati, c.1518-23

Lorenzo Lotto, Holy Family with Saint Catherine of Alexandria, c.1533

Lorenzo Lotto, The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, c.1523

Not only a profound lesson in technique, but a demonstration that you don't have to work on a large scale to convey beauty and complex ideas. Brilliant!