Artists who explore the Crucifixion
Sin and the torments and violence of damnation are often depicted in religious art – Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) perfect example of this genre with his terrifying surrealistic visions of the torments of and punishments in hell. Considered by many as the most horrific, yet beautiful work in the history of art.
As the fundamental belief of those worshiping God was/is that he has the power to overcome all evil and deliver humans to a utopian heaven, the fear that paintings like Bosch’s instilled in people was used as a tool to control them.
Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516), "Hell 2", oil on Canvas
This horror and openly gratuitous displays of morbidity were moved away from by artists and almost sanitised meaning the realistic horror of being crucified was no longer depicted as something so violent. In numerous artworks the crucified Christ is more often than not portrayed in a serene calm manner with his suffering removed, bathed in a pool of serene and heavenly light. The grotesque suffering that a human body would have endured being nailed to a cross and left to die is rarely shared and experienced by the viewer.
Altarpieces are Altarpieces are paintings / work of art designed to be set above and behind an altar in a church. Altarpieces have a liturgical function in taking a role in a religious service, whether that be in a communion, christening, wedding or funeral. Their purpose is to convey a sense of feeling through a religious scene. 13th century altarpieces were often reliquaries and artifacts, - triptychs (Holy Trinity), polyptych (unified image), idealised depictions of Christ.
This then developed into paintings, often with no background setting the scene but instead set in an abstract space. Over time this was developed into early attempts to create recessional space and naturalistic figures, artists were being privately and publicly commission to create paintings and or sculptural altarpieces to fit a specific place and fulfill a specific purpose. Altarpieces (throughout 13th-15th Centuries) have adapted to match aesthetic changes over time, also keeping pace with artistic and stylistic change, matching the pace of the technical innovation.
- imagined places, abstract space (gold / no background,etc), less naturalistic, meant to show off wealth, reliefs
- The Church reacts to and is involved in artistic change and development - keeps up to date. Art has replaced artifacts and reliquaries (e.g. bones of St. Peter) - the birth of visual culture
- Protestant Churches - against the showy, ornamental aspect
- Counter - Reformation - Catholicism using art to show it is the most powerful religion
- Private commissions, frame and architecture
- Didactic function - Christ is the connection between the two worlds
Raphael, The Javari crucifix, 1502-1503
- Unusual for Christ to wear red
- The altar table would be beneath the cross, immersing the viewer into the scene (gap in the middle is for you, if you were kneeling this is how you would have seen the scene)
- Christ is the most anatomically correct figure (Leonardo da Vinci influence and progressive anatomical accuracy)
- Christ has a wound on his ribs from Longinus who cut him to prove he wasn’t holy and then prodded the wound realising he was real
- Holy trinity (three wounds on Christ), triptych, rule of thirds
- Chromatic symmetry (the movement of red around the painting) of colour
- The scale is based on hierarchical scaling (Jesus is the biggest as he is the most important)
- Vivid, bright use of colour (saturated red and blue tones) for a crucifixion
- All figures have red on them (blood of Christ) transfiguration
Red wine = blood
Bread = body
- Angels catching Christ’s blood in their chalices
Pontormo, Deposition, 1528, oil on panel
The deposition represents the point at which faith was lost, the darkest moment in
the life and passions of Christ, God has forsaken him, he has not intervened or stopped this from happening, temporary loss of faith for believers
‘He painted flesh and fabric like pure light and light like colour, grace, and flesh of the
utmost transparency.’- Bussotti
‘forever investigating new concepts and strange ways of working.’ Vasari speaking about Pontormo,
- Acidic, nauseating colours, weird skin tones, non naturalistic, cadaver like angel at the top
- Neither a deposition or a pieta
- Strikingly modern - breaking the rules of altarpieces
- It is and isn’t a deposition - no cross
- Not compositionally logical
- Physical burden of the death of Christ
- Probably partly based on Michelangelo’s Pieta
Mannerism - elongated limbs, twisting and contortion of the human forms, odd
compositions, meant to make you feel disquieting and disturbed
- flaccid flesh + shapeless torso of Christ
Titian, Pieta, c1575, oil on canvas
Golgotha - Friday Christ is put on the Cross, the sky goes black, on Saturday Christ
is dead - The pieta is the point at which Mary holds the body of her son right after he
has been taken off the cross
- Niche - intended for statues and he has framed it with statues on either side
Tripartite division, the father, the son and the Holy Ghost, Farari Chapel was Catholic
Largely monochromatic, black and grey -reflects the somber themes of the painting
Ex voto - a painting or an image you give to a Church in order to ask for a favour,
The highlights on Christ, tonal rendering is the same as for the statues on the side;
get this idea that Christ is the fallen sculpture
binaries; death and life, acceptance and refusal to accept, (they can’t have killed the prophet) - tragic for these human figures - They’re lost in the middle of human agony
Christ makes a point of forgiving Magdalene, even the greatest sins can be forgiven, she washed his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair
Christ has his own internal light source, elliptical, we come back to Christ
Looks like they’re already in a tomb, claustrophobic, Dying vegetation a transient symbol
- Christ looks like a cadaver - ghostly pale, limp, lifeless, point of despair with all hope lost...
Paula Rego, Celia Paul, Jenny Saville, William Coldstream
Island of the Lights from Pinocchio, 1996, Pencil, ink and watercolour on paper, laid on Masonite.
This bustling, busy painting instantly reminded me of Heironymous Bosch's paintings I read about a week or two ago, their compositions are so crowded that the figures become lost in one another and you have to really look at the painting to break it down into its component pieces, and to be able to follow the story its telling. I love Rego's use of colour and distinct style of using illustrative pen/ink on top of watercolour - her content and style definitely falls under the grotesque, fantastic and bizarre - however she manages to retain the painting's aesthetic by upholding its continuous sense of movement and chromatic symmetry of colour which both really tie the composition together. I love this piece so much that I bought the postcard of it straight after leaving the gallery.
Having developed her highly original visual language over several decades, Paula Rego revived her childhood memories in search of inspiration for a series of works made in conjunction with the prestigious Spellbound: Art and Film exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. As one of the few works that the artist made based on the Walt Disney cartoons of Pinocchio, Snow White and Fantasia, the present work is an excellent example of Rego’s fascination with popular mythology, as well as her unique artistic vocabulary.
Growing up in Portugal before moving to London to study at the Slade School of Art, Rego has always been fascinated by the world of Walt Disney. The mesmerising but terrifying stories she watched in the cinema with her grandmother were embedded in the artist’s memory from a young age. Rego’s mature work explores these familiar sources, not as illustrations, but as ambiguous and psychologically charged sets that are left for the viewer to decipher. This is characteristic of Rego’s original practice, where the absence of a clear narrative is often balanced with interpretative suggestions.
In Island of the Lights from Pinocchio, Rego has chosen a pivotal and dramatic development in the adventures of Pinocchio. On Pleasure Island, a popular holiday destination in the story, a malevolent spell transforms young boys into donkeys, who are then sold off to work in the salt mines. Capturing the drama of this metamorphosis and the struggle of its protagonists, Rego has employed a dynamic compositional structure dominated by a stark black and white contrast. The tumultuous combat that ensues in the tale is depicted with Rego’s usual ambiguity – not suggesting the resolution of the struggle, but rather inviting contemplation over the dramatic moment.
Although Rego’s work depicts a chapter from a popular tale, the existential struggle of the story reflects the deeply serious concerns that the artist took on throughout her practice. Her fascination with Disney films is in fact largely due to the darker undercurrent that such stories represent behind their adventurous appearances. The epic fight between donkeys and children in Island of the Lights from Pinocchio has a long line of historical precedents, as images of the struggle between life and death have simultaneously frightened and fascinated people throughout the centuries.
By highlighting the existential undertone of the story of Pinocchio, Paula Rego masterfully lays bare the venerable religious appearances of the tale. In its current manifestation as a fairy tale, hell is represented by a mine on the island – indeed reminiscent of the underworld in classical mythology. Moreover, the duality between humans and animals that is explored in the tumultuous battle, is reminiscent of age-old representations of the last judgement, and indeed of Hieronymus Bosch’ famous depictions of hell. Same Comparison as me!
Whilst Rego’s work has often been compared to that of Old Master painters, it also engages in more contemporary dialogues. For the Pinocchio series, Rego employed a mannequin made by the artist Ron Mueck, her son-in-law. The uncanny nature of the mannequin in Rego’s works points to an interest in Freudian psychology, whilst the animals can also be read as archetypes for human behaviour. Furthermore, Rego made this series for an exhibition about the relation between art and film in contemporary artistic practices, which draws attention to the continued relevance of traditional mediums in contemporary art, even in an age dominated by the moving image.
Island of the Lights from Pinocchio is therefore a highly emblematic work within Paula Rego’s oeuvre, which captures both her interest in popular mythologies and the dramatic existential battles they represent. The unique visual language of her drawings in ink and watercolour on paper, which she uses to avoid the formality of easel painting, is beautifully expressed in the present work, making it a subtle take on a story that has ingrained itself.
Celia Paul, Family Group, 1984-6, Oil paint on canvas.
Celia Paul's painting I saw in the Tate really resonated with me. How she was able to so accurately render the human face when crying on numerous different people at different angles is amazing. Their caricatured style doesn't distract from Paul's ability to depict and mimic what she sees in the real world. Her use of colour and highlights makes all the women's noses and eyes which look raw and swollen, like they've been crying for days, each dealing with the tragedy in a different way. The figures are almost gross, their snotty, wet faces and cartoony style make them unappealing to the viewers yet everyone can relate to their emotion of complete despair and therefore we also are able to empathise with them at the same time. Her loose painterly brushstrokes, don't take away from the overall image she manages to create - when I look at the painting I empathise with each of the figures, I feel what they feel, they seem real - Thats a very powerful tool to be able to have and act on in your art work, I can only hope to make my viewers really feel something after looking at something I've created.
Jenny Saville, Reverse, 2002-3, Oil paint on canvas.
The ambitious scale of this close-up self portrait makes it a bold and assertive statement as well as making it really hard to make detailed and impressive - but I honestly think that seeing this painting in person was one of the most impressive paintings i've ever seen, especially on that scale. Saville dislikes working from a life model, preferring to paint from photographs (perhaps so she is able to zoom in on certain areas to copy the detail, forms and colours accurately - it also allows the working period to be extended as a model doest have to keep sitting). Like me, she is particularly interested in the colour palette of wounded bodies. Saville collects images of burns and bruises from medical textbooks and observes plastic surgery (this is something I tried when attempting to accurately capture the various colour tones which make up the human lungs). She often make paint swatches from these images, trying to replicate the visual effect on newsprint before transferring the technique onto canvas. This approach to painting is clearly successful as this painting is breathtaking - the detail she achieves on this large scale is really impressive, they eyes and mouth (especially teeth) look so realistic. I definitely want to incorporate an aspect of paint into my work (although it will be primarily sculptural) - Like the mini-vinamold lungs I painted to look realistic, Im starting to consider casting another organ (a heart) on a larger scale which I will also paint (perhaps I should take swatches like Saville before starting).
At first glance, these paintings look like typical/classic nude portraits, however, because I noticed myself assume that about these artworks, I decided to look a little closer and I was pleasantly surprised to see they had a really distinct style; leaving his demarcated measurements of the human anatomy visible amongst the paint (admitting to the maths involved in replicating the human figure instead of pretending it was effortless). These marked areas were done in red, blue and black and add another dimension to these portraits, the lines almost looked like ruler marks, dripping down and streaked upwards - there was a raw honesty to his methods as a painter. Within this project I've been really interested in the ways in which artists can communicate with their audience through their own artworks; in particular, making their viewers take a closer look only to find out they were initially deceived by the piece... Coldstream did this well.
Learning to Look at Sculpture
I really enjoyed reading this book - I found that most of it was just teaching me how to really break down an art work and to be able to consider all of its intentions - fully analyse. I think this was definitely beneficial to my analytical writing and thinking when approaching an artwork, I hope it will help me to analyse my own artwork so I can fully exploit my opportunities within this final project!
Frued and Bacon
Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon at the Tate Britain
" I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed them, like a snail, leaving a trail of the human presence and memoir trace of past events as the snail leaves its slime" - Francis Bacon 1955
Lucian Freud, Man's Head (self-Portrait II), Leigh Bowery, 1991, Oil on canvas
1963, Oil on canvas.
Lucian Freud's self-portrait was created when the artist was in his early 40s, this is one of the many self portraits Freud painted throughout his life. It demonstrated his enduring fascination with flesh and its contours. Heavily textured paint is layered with broad strokes across the canvas, with bold contrasts of shade. His unromantic, almost grotesque treatment of the human form is evident in the severe rendition of his facial contours, and the ungainly angle and skeletal paleness of the arm thrusting into the composition. Both of the portraits above, are unflattering with sagging and bulging flesh relaxing in on itself because of its awkward angles. I like the raw honest nature of these Freud portraits, he doesn't try to idealise his subjects but rather intentionally paints them brutally and as he sees them, unapologetic. His virtuoso treatment of skin tone, blending and contours is really hard to breakdown, even when looking closely, he somehow manages to make it look so effortless, so alive.
Two Women, 1992, Oil on canvas
Again, Freud is able to create an astonishingly accurate depiction of two female nudes, he highlights their awkward bony areas when the skin is more sunken and sharp. This doesn't flatter the models but makes them seem more like they're made up of shapes and lines, their soft and hard skin is both fleshy and muted, the two women are sprawled on the mattress next to each other, but obviously disconnected, yet vulnerable. They lie there in such a bizarre way ... I find that the majority of Freud's compositions make all the subjects appear dead or corpse-like, sprawled, eyes closed, and either completely relaxed or rigid. The large scale of this painting definitely made it more powerful, we begin to question Freud's relationship to the sitters and what their relation is to each other - looking for answers hidden within the paint. When I stepped closer to the painting to look at Freud's brushstrokes and palette, I noticed how much paint was actually on the canvas.. I took a photo (above) and couldn't believe how textured the surface of the painting was - the heavy use of impasto made it almost a relief sculpture! The extreme texture of the paint makes the figures pop out of their restrictive canvas and they are brought to life, with a flesh and feel of their own. They are almost treated as skeletons more than meaty, fleshy creatures, it is as if a blanket of skin lightly rests on their skeletons which protruded through, creating bold projections and recessions of skin tone.
Francis Bacon, Study after Velazquez, 1950, Oil on canvas.
From 1949 and for over to decades, Francis Bacon worked on numerous paintings based on reproductions of Diego Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650). Bacon said that he was haunted and obsessed by the image, which captured the pope's powerful status and corrupted character. In Bacon's version Pope Innocent X is transformed into a screaming, isolated figure, losing some of its distinct religious garments. The bold, unforgiving brushstrokes which take over the canvas, dragging, blurring and distorting the religious figure is almost suggestive of a type of hell or inner torment that the Pope struggles with. The pope seems to be seeping and dissipating into its surrounding canvas, going into nothingness, this almost nightmarish composition transforms the Pope into a type of ghoul, non-human.
Study for Portrait II (after the Life Mask of William Blake), 1955, oil on canvas.
I found this particular painting really haunting, the portrait is so far from the conventional formal aspects which make up a classical portrait - none of of the features are defined or recognisable as any person in particular. Bacon's use of blurred colour and sweeping strokes drags the fleshy tones into the darkness, the demarcated black lines become grey in places where they have blended in into the flesh and been swept across the face. The floating head lacks any connection to its viewers, eyes closed and head tilted down, you almost want to try and interact with him... his stillness emits an even darker theme, he appears almost lifeless, dead (but the warm pink tones suggest otherwise).
Three Figures and Portrait, 1975, oil paint and pastel, alkyd and sand on canvas.
I was drawn to this particular painting by Bacon as he references the human anatomy despite completely distorting the human forms and turning them into these fleshy contorted creatures - blurrs of colour. Each retains an anatomical feature, whether the spine, mouth or buttocks. Each of the three figures is writhing and squirming in their own worlds, completely disconnected from one another they appear to almost be transforming or morphing. Set against a formal background, almost like an office, they stand out even more for being these fleshy, bulbous thrashing shapes - It is clear to us (the viewers) that these blurry of colour are representative of the human form, but this is only made clear to us through the subtle virtuosity of Bacon which he exploits; treating these creatures with a skin tone, limb-like outlines and definition is faint but present, subtly blending recognisable human features in with the unrecognisable. What I really love about Three figures and a Portrait is the way in which Bacon makes the viewers take a step closer to break down the image in their own mind and to try and attempt to understand what is going on in the confusing composition - he encourages them to try and make sense of the absurd, his grotesque style heightens this even further, potentially installing a sense of uncomfortableness in his viewers, as if we are intruding.
Portrait of Isobel Rawsthorne, 1966, Oil paint on canvas.
At first glance, I saw a distorted face. When I looked closer, I saw the minute attention to detail that appear on the canvas, tiny red splashes of paint makes the distorted face look as though it has been beaten or ripped open, the intense black depth makes it look like the facial structure is collapsing in on itself, leaving just the floppy skin entwined with itself - again Bacon creates a portrait which nightmares are made of, but does so with such a finesse and technique that the artwork becomes so much more beautiful than scary.
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944, Oil on canvas
I was really disappointed when I couldn't find Bacon's crucifixion in the exhibition, luckily I asked one of the attendants who told me that the painting was in the Tate Britain, just in a different room. After I tracked down the triptych I became completely obsessed. The title of the triptych refers to the figures sometimes depicted at the foot of the cross in religious paintings (rule of thirds/the holy trinity). Bacon later related the to The Eumenides , vengeful furies of Greek myth. The work's exhibition in April 1945 coincided with the release of the first photographs and film footage of the Nazi concentration camps. Some interpreted Bacon's triptych and reflecting the pessimistic world ushered in by the Holocaust and the advent of nuclear weapons. Again, Bacon is successful at making his viewers feel uncomfortable and intrusive as if we have stumbled across a portal into another dimension where these weird, half -human, half- monsters reside. Their powerful use of colour is almost so saturated it looks seductive, but we are reminded of the subjects of each painting and take a step back.
'What I want to do is to distort the thing so far beyond the appearance but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance.' - Francis Bacon, 1966
I though that the whole exhibition was really impressive, it housed a large quantity of paintings by other artists as well who inspired and were inspired by Freud and Bacon. They have always been two of my favourite artists and I'm so happy to have been able to see their works displayed alongside one another and for being able to admire the grotesque features each of them adopt when approaching their own paintings - something I never really noticed before.
Damien Hirst Extended Research
Hirst and the Human Body
“I love that idea in science that you’ve to kill the things you want to look at before you can look at them” Damien Hirst, Beyond Belief catalogue, Interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist.
Hirst is perhaps the most obvious example of a living contemporary artist who repeatedly references the inner workings of the human body across many of his artworks incorporating the grand themes of religion, science and death. As a teenager Hirst was fascinated by autopsies or “interior landscapes” and observed dissections and even broke into a morgue to look at cadavers. He has taken ownership of the medical theatre and spectacle of the human form in both a contemporary setting, as seen in his monumental painted bronze sculpture HYMN (1999) and with a more historic and religious reference in Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain (2006). HYMN stands at 20 feet and is a giant copy of a child’s anatomical teaching toy that exposes the inner organs of the human body and although cast in solid bronze replicates the bright and shiny colours of the original plastic model. Its monumental size and imposing stature loom over us but at the same time offer a joyous, playful and child-like take on the human body. His Saint Bartholomew (gold, silver and bronze editions) the patron Saint of doctors and surgeons, follows the Christian tradition of depicting the martyred apostle with his flayed skin, holding his instruments of torture. The violence of the act and the pain are not expressed and he stands rather heroically with his own skin draped over his arm like an item of clothing adopting a classical pose with every sinew of his muscles and tendons detailed in the bronze rendition. Hirst brilliantly mimics the classical and grandiose art of history while employing his own wit and twist in his artworks making them more contemporary and gently mocking the original subject matter. In using some of the grandest themes of art history, he plays with us and challenges death, religion and belief.
Hymn, 2008 Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain, 2006
Hirst’s 2008 sculpture, The Anatomy of an Angel, in pure white carrera marble, is a classically posed Renaissance Venus. Softly curvaceous with a side long gaze, the elegant pure white of her skin is unexpectedly peeled back to reveal what is hidden from our view, the accurate detail of inner organs and bones that make up the physicality of an angel. This cross-section of her body shows the anatomical structure beneath the skin, exposing the scientific working of her breast and guts and revealing she is human after all but with no blood or gore or colour to suggest the inner violence. In one artwork Hirst is confronting and questioning Life, death, beauty and science. “Though an angel may be a figure of religious imagination or belief, she has, in Hirst’s perception, a body too, and he shows her with the real physical machinery of which she is composed” Rudi Fuchs. A fragmented body, seemingly made of stone and yet contains soft organs and muscles, is so compelling it is used frequently through the centuries and this woman, this angel is proof.
Anatomy of an Angel, 2008
Damien Hirst’s take on anatomy, especially the human anatomy is both idealised and playful, often expressing his humour which can be both light hearted and dark. This is especially evident with HYMN (1999), where he uses seductive bright shiny colours to entice viewers to inspect his grand sculpture. He chooses smooth bronze to mirror the effect of a plastic medical toy, and does this so successfully that this endearing piece fulfils its didactic function as being both aesthetically pleasing to observe and teaching its audience about their own anatomy. Hirst’s work is so entirely true to life in its factuality but simultaneously has a fake plasticity to it, despite it being cast in solid bronze, taking away the brutal and often gruesome reality of our anatomy. He plays with both materials, making bronze look like shiny plastic and with the scale, creating a monumental toy. Like the vivid illustrations in Gray’s Anatomy book (which has been constantly updated since it was first published in 1858), Hirst’s work is colourful and vibrant. One of my intentions within this project is to potentially follow the same aesthetic that Hirst is so keen on, perhaps casting body parts in plaster inspired by the immaculate The Anatomy of an Angel (2008), its unison of colour elevates the sculpture into another worldly plane, it seduces its spectators.
“This is the hidden profane of the autopsy room, which reminds us, through factual evidence of the human as animal as flesh” Annushka Shani, ‘Between fact and wonder’, Romance in the age of uncertainty.
In Damien Hirst’s Turner prize winning Mother and Child (Divided) 1993, you can actually pass through the insides of a cow and its calf, literally walking through glass vitrines that encase the bisected animals. We can see every detail of the veins and inner organs pressed against the glass, preserved in formaldehyde, representing the body like a physical machine. In his formaldehyde tanks, Hirst’s works are more truthful, take directly from life instead of being modelled from pictures. His grotesquely beautiful Natural History series of sharks, sheep, zebras, pigs and cows semi dissected and displayed in glass tanks filled with formaldehyde are curiously enticing.
Mother and Child Divided, 1993 The Prodigal Son, 1994
Hirst’s work regularly incorporates religious themes that he is constantly challenging and confronting ‘I was brought up a Catholic, but I don't believe in God. I think I'm an atheist. Hardcore atheist. I'm trying to be a hardcore atheist, and then I keep making work like this’ (Damien Hirst). How much easier it is for an artist in the 21st century to deny the existence of a God, compared to an artist working over 500 years ago. Hirst surely regards medicine as our new saviour and ‘God’.
In the late 90s, Hirst started crating sculptural artworks which incorporated the use of medical iconography and models, trying to equate Science and Christianity. His pill cabinets referenced the taking of the sacraments ( a religious idea which promises to deliver something to you if you take the sacrament); this is exactly the same as the scientific promise of taking medicine in order to cure a disease or problem - BOTH BELIEF SYSTEMS PROMISE TO DELIVER. Hirst demonstrates both the conflicting ideas as well as drawing parallels between the two conflicting beliefs.
Hirst's sculpture 'Sinner' is a piece based on the medical addiction and reliance that people have nowadays (shifting their faith from religion to science). The work is actually a collection of Hirst's Grandmother's medicine, after her death he collected all of the medicine she had in her house which she believed would 'cure her'. He arranged the medical packaging on shelves which correlated to what area of the body the medicine treated (as demonstrated on the diagram below). The sculpture is therefore a form of a portrait by literally demonstrating that which kept his Grandma alive in the last few years of her life.
“I was with my mum in the chemists; she was getting a prescription and I saw that she believed in all this medicine and the seduction of all its packaging. It would cure her” - Hirst
Hirst weighs up the reliance that people tend to have either on scientific medicine or their religious faith in redemption/saviour - everyone has a dependency on something, maybe we are all fooling ourselves into believing that faith plays any part in what will happen to us, all of our faits are celled by the inevitability of death anyway?
“ I just cant help thinking that science is the new religion for many people. Its as simple and as complicated as that really…there are four important things in life: religion, love, art and science. Of all of them, Science seems to be the one right now. Like religion, it provides the glimmer of hope that maybe it will be alright in the end.” - Hirst
Hirst treats his display cabinets in a very interesting way - these empty vessels are treated as though they are the human body, he seeks to fill them with medical iconography that plays with the idea of religious theories and beliefs - is he mocking?
In DH Trinity – Pharmacology, Physiology, Pathology 2000
Wall mounted triptych sculptural installations continuing his fascination with using cabinets and vitrines with pharmaceutical products as a modern metaphor for religion, in this instance to display medical teaching models of the human anatomy. (Enlarged brain and heart, torso and head, etc) . Presents three types pf medical science - study of drugs, the functioning of the body and the study of disease – metaphors of the holy trnity of the Christian church – Father, Son and Holy spirit – akin to the triptychs used in altar pieces.
“Whereas religion offered the certainty of immortality, medicine now offers the possibility of increased longevity. We believe in these drugs as a new form of Eucharist sacrament and we swallow them whole, hoping that they will defer our meeting with our maker.”
- (Christopher Pankhurst ‘DH Religion & Death’)
“I chose the size and shape of the cabinet like a body… then I played around with the idea of putting the head at the top and all the medicine that she took that related to this, then I worked my way down…”
His earlier cabinets from the late 1980s and early 90s, used medical packaging and real animal organs displayed in jars with formaldehyde to preserve them. Larger animals, some bisected also displayed in vitrines with titles that reference Christian iconography that has always been central to Hirst’s language – Away from the Flock (1994) Mother and Child Divided (1993)
Away from the Flock (1994)
“Where is God now? God’s fucked off. So all these big issues, like art, science and cancer, are all clambering about on this barren landscape where God used to exist”
Reading a Critical Text
The Quick and the Dead
Artists and Anatomy
I read this book (although only picked out certain, relevant sections to analyse and upload onto workflow... which gave me a lot of trouble by not allowing me to rotate the images to be the right way round!) - I found it really interesting and there was a lot of contextual and historical information about the origins of anatomy becoming a subject for artists.
“From Galliano to todays amateur astronomer, scientists have been rebels; like artists and poets they are free spirits who resist restrictions.” Freeman Dyson
For centuries the study of human anatomy has been embraced by both medical science and artists, often a collaborative business, in order to further our scientific understanding of disease and how the human body functions. Artists have been studying the human form for centuries with the study of human anatomy obligatory at many of the established art academies in Europe, using it as both a didactic and artistic medium. The interior workings and mechanics of the human body has been central to western art for most of its history, providing artists with endless material from the detailed 15th century sketches of Leonardo da Vinci to the violent fascination of the German anatomist Gunter von Hagens and British artist Damien Hirst. It remains the focus of many artists work in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Exquisitely illustrated medical books from the eighteenth century depict anatomy and dissections, printed on fine paper and published in editions of a few hundred and show a collaboration between anatomists and artists, engravers and printers. The mechanical objectivity of some of these publications separates them from the artistic expression seen a century later when artists were able to communicate more meaning and address the concept of immortality and decay. Dissecting the dead has helped to understand the living and although previously regarded as perhaps too explicit and disturbing for a mainstream and non-medical audience, in the past century we have become used to explicit images of violent deaths, surgery and the general working of the human body through the medium of photography, film and television.
Mortality and the journey from life to death is a human obsession and one that occupies our thoughts and remains an obsessive theme for many artists. Our bodies are fascinating machines that also endure pain, decay and ultimately death. Humans are intrigued by the inner working and what goes on beneath our protective skins and can gaze at anatomical images as art and vice versa. The human body provides endless subject matter for artists.
Overtime, as people gained a better insight into the human anatomy, artists started to use the body as a motif for art, distancing themselves from the anatomists who originally studies the body from a purely scientific perspective. Modern day artists, Hirst in particular, still incorporates a didactic function in his art, educating people about the human body whilst simultaneously creating an aesthetically pleasing artwork. The influence anatomy has had on my own work is forever growing, the body is an infinitely interesting subject and one which I will never tire of investigating. Medicine preserves us, allows us to live longer, saves our lives. The painstaking artistic and scientific research of artists like da Vinci and Hirst has helped lead us to where we are today.
‘I want to live in an age which sees similar beauty in a flower and in the severed limb of a human being’ Schouten et al, 1989
Francis Newton Souza
Sorry I can't seem to get my images to rotate...
Souza often painted powerful figures whose references span a wide range of sources, from early renaissance and religious paintings to modern day photography. The graphic power of Souza's lines produce simplified and bold images, while the thick oil pants applied liberally to the board or canvas, with swift strokes, give his work a sense of vitality and movement. Saints, businessmen and makes figures are some of his main characters, inhabiting a world shaped by loss and desire as well as spirituality. The erotic nature of his female nudes express the artist's view of male-female relationships, was complex and shaped by love, lust and abjection. His style is dark, almost Basquiat-like, his figures more allegorical than realistic with their thick, long, trunk-like necks elevating their blurred or manic faces off their shoulders. He makes use of smudging and blurring the paint in some works, but focuses in on a sort of tribal style and detail in others, using patterns and colour to create this effect. My favourite work of Souza's in this exhibition room was definitely the Crucifixion - which makes use of the classical rule of thirds (holy trinity reference) as well as transforming the religious image into the modern world (so much so it is initially almost unrecognisable as a crucifixion).
Negro in Mourning, 1957, oil paint on hardboard.
Souza felt that his duty as a painter was to represent the crucial themes defining the human condition. As well as religion and sex, cultural identity and racism were pressing issues that he witnessed if not experienced personally from having moved to London from Mumbai in 1949. Speaking about this work in 1997, Souza stated that he painted it 'in London when race riots flared'. He considered this ones of his best works, explaining ' Negro in Mourning is close to the bone off man because its about the colour of skin'.
Souza choses to paint the majority of the man's skin blue - an interesting choice when both labelling the man as a 'Negro' in the title of the painting, why not be literal if its a message you are trying to send? Why change the colour of the skin to something its not? This slightly confused me.
Black Nude, 1961, Oil paint on canvas.
This is a three quarter length study of a voluminous black female nude with large breasts and abdomen and a skull-like face, against a background of abstract patters in different colours. The shape of her teeth echoes that of her beads and that of her eyes, grotesquely set in her forehead. The painting is depicted in an essentially expressionistic manner, drawsing on the post-war Art Brut, Cubist and primitive pictorial tropes. The frontal, icon-like composition, the line-bound figure and the thick and porous application of layers of paint are all qualities we see in his influencers' works. We also see the influence of Picasso in his use of primitivist idioms - Souza developed the theme of the female nude throughout his career.
Crucifixion, 1959, oil paint on board.
Souza painted several other religiously charged pictures - it refutes the archetype of Christ.. 'the blond operatic Chutists and flaxen-haired shy virgins' which he and everyone else in the world have been encouraged to admire and believe to be the true depictions of these people. Souza makes the scene of the crucifixion a lot more relatable to the majority of the Eastern world by instead emulating 'the impaled image of a Man supposed to be the Son of God, scourged and dripping, with matted hair tangled in plaited thorns' he saw hanging over the altars of the Catholic churches he attended.
While the depiction of Christ and the other figures as black represents a significant departure from the western norms, such critics as Edwin Mullins and David Sylvester compared the expressionist vernacular of Souza's work with that of Graham Sutherland and Francis Bacon, both of whom had depicted religious subject matter in a similarly brutal style shortly after the Second World War. Indeed, Sutherland painted several crucifixions in the postwar period which referred directly to the Isenheim Altarpiece, 1515 by the German Renaissancepainter Matthias Grunewald. Comparisons were also made to Pablo Picasso's work of the late 1930s and the 1940s, though the distorted faces in Crucifixion may equally be compared to those of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.
Graham Sutherland, Crucifixion, Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Figures at Matthias Grunewald, Isenheim
1946, Oil paint on board. the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944, Oil on canvas . Altarpiece, 1515
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907
Edwin Mullins described Souza's vision of divine power as of 'a God, who is not a God of gentleness and love, but rather of suffering, vengeance and terrible anger'. The tortured figure of Christ and the grotesquely deformed characters on either side of him, who according to Souza may be St John and a disciple, testify to this reading of his religious imagery.
The logistics of the crucifixion
Johanna Ebstein, The White Chapel Gallery
‘The Subjective, The Objective, The Sacred and the Profane, Art, Death and Morbid Anatomies’
I went with Rubia to a talk at the whitechapel gallery by an artist Johanna Ebstein, called: ‘The subjective, The objective, The sacred and the Profane, Art, Death and morbid anatomies’. It sounded really relevant to the themes I was exploring within this project so I wanted to go and see if listening to the talk would give me any new ideas about my work and what to do next. The talk was largely based on Epstein’s research about the way in which death is presented around the world in artistic forms (not just through artworks), its largely feared as no-one can prove the existence of the after life. Maybe this is just coming back to my point about people being scared of their own humanity - their anatomy and their fates (we should all know that the inevitability of dying is a very real part of the human race?….) avoiding admitting it will only prolong suffering. Ebstein started to talking about loss and the difficult and traumatic process of losing a child (this made me think about Jesus and Mary, then after researching a bit I found it amazing the impact that Christ’s death supposedly had on everyone after he died (it seemed to affect people who weren't his parents in the same way). People nowadays do anything to avoid the thought of death (don’t want to admit that they too will face this brutal reality one day), Ebstein mentioned this is why it is far less likely to see open caskets or any body at all (we are scared of seeing our own fates in another’s), the cleansing ritual of washing and presenting a loved one’s body for a funeral was part of the process of saying goodbye, but this rarely still happens today - I thought this was interesting when compared to Christ’s life where his body was hung up in front of everyone and then also deposed after (where he was supposedly shrouded with people).
Although I found the talk very interesting, I thought it was more philosophical and scepticism than pure facts, It’s definitely got me thinking about how I can make people realise the certainty of death through a work of my own - can make people confront its reality.
When researching artists who uses wax as a material to create very visceral artworks, I was reminded of a piece I saw recently in MoMa in New York. At the time I wasnt aware of who the artist was but I was nevertheless drawn to this piece and ended up returning to it now to fully investigate. The artist was Paul Thek, was an american painter and sculptor (who sadly died before his time) who worked in the 20th century making artworks modelled after hyper-realistic images of meat, raw and bleeding, from beeswax - these pieces were 'Gross and funny, they had people buzzing'.
Untitled (Meat Piece with Flies), 1965, from the series Technological Reliquaries, wood, melamine, laminate, metal, wax, paint, hair, plexiglass.
Thek's parents were Roman Catholic; the first art he saw was in churches, which are mostly extremely violent images of martyrdom and severe acts of self harm due to devotion to faith... His connection to religion remained deep, and deeply conflicted; he challenged his family's traditional beliefs and defined his own faith as “Believing is seeing”.
'Early on, at the moment of Minimalism’s ascendance, Thek was exhibiting meticulously rendered “meat pieces,” which later became known as “Technological Reliquaries.” Initially, from 1963 to 1966, these works were wax hunks that looked like human flesh in some instances and sea-creature or alien meat in others. Beginning in 1966, Thek fashioned futuristic warrior relics out of hyperrealistic casts of his own arms and legs. Both the meat works and the “relics” were encased in (often fluorescent-yellow) Plexiglas and glass. The housing of meticulously crafted simulations of flesh within transparent cubes sharply contradicted the cool detachment of Minimalism and Pop.'
This piece I saw at MoMa is called Hippopotamus Poison, 1965 made from wax and displayed in a stainless steel and plexiglass cabinet belongs to the series 'Technological Reliquaries'. 'The work engages the Roman Catholic tradition of venerating saintly bodies that Thek had observed firsthand in the catacombs near Palermo and simultaneously offers a critique of the art of the time, Pop and Minimalism in particular'. The most attractive part of this sculpture for me is its visually seductive display case made from colored plexiglass which houses what appears to be a huge slab of rotten meat. Thek has successfully managed to realistically rendered in the hunk of meat using wax to mimic the muscle and fatty parts as well as the thick, tough hippopotamus skin. Inscribed on the vitrine is a paranoid quote that nods to a generation's underlying fears. "The world was falling apart, anyone could see it," Thek has explained. "I was a wreck, the block was a wreck, the city was a wreck; and I’d go to a gallery and there would be a lot of fancy people looking at a lot of stuff that didn’t say anything about anything to anyone."
'Thek’s most-discussed work was his sculptural installation The Tomb (1967), which chronologically and stylistically bridged his body-part relics and immersive environments. The Tomb consisted of a one-story-high, pale pink structure reminiscent of a Sumerian ziggurat, within which lay a full-size, painstakingly crafted effigy of Thek himself. Painted pale pink, the replicant featured long hair and a moustache like Thek’s own, and wore a double-breasted suit and a necklace made of human hair, as well as other jewelry. Its tongue was sticking out of its mouth, and the fingers on its right hand- Thek’s working hand-were cut off, leaving bloody stumps. The fingers hung inside a pouch near the figure. (The artist was thus symbolically “silenced,” unable to do his work.) In the first presentation of The Tomb, at New York’s Stable Gallery in 1967, Thek surrounded the figure with pink goblets, a funerary bowl, personal letters and some of his previous reliclike work, making The Tomb resemble an archeological dig. On the outside of the ziggurat, Thek posted a sign that detailed the structure’s measurements, medium and fabricator, mocking the literalness of Minimalism while suggesting scientific precision. (The piece is now considered one of the great lost works of the 1960s. The figure disappeared after Thek refused to accept it from a shipping company in 1982, apparently because of damage the piece had incurred in transit.)'
Robert Pincus-Witten described the work as “a monument which may easily prove to be one of the unanticipated yet representative masterworks of American sculpture of the sixties.”
When looking at Thek's “The Tomb — Death of a Hippie,” I noticed how his referencing of religious themes and how he tied that in with his obvious interest in the scientific and the overtly visceral was something which I am really interested in pursuing myself. My initial research has been based mainly around the anatomy and science of the human body as the majority of people are actually repulsed/scared by what it is that makes us human (our anatomical makeup), however bringing in a contrasting theme into my work; religion, like Thek does could potentially be a really interesting direction to follow.
Thek's piece really reminded me of an old painting by the northern renaissance artist Holbein who also researched the human figure through his artwork. In his 1525 ‘The Dead Christ in the tomb’ he observes with brutal realism the effects of death on the human body. Studying cadavers at morgues to gain a better insight into the human form post life, Holbein uses oil paints to un-idealise the idea of ‘Christ’, questioning his supposed immortality through this brutally realistic and mimetic depiction of Christ not idealising him in anyway, his mortal, lifeless, sunken flesh appears dirty and unwashed. His lonely and emaciated figure is stripped of any iconography that may suggest redemption, with no symbols hinting at his revival, the solitary figure lies, rotting like any other human would. Holbein is in this aspect similar to Leonardo da Vinci, both observing the human figure from real life, no idealisation just the raw, honest and brutal truth. Death and mortality are themes heavily present in Holbein’s work, which reinstates to the viewers that science will win, despite religion or belief in redemption, everyone dies, it is certain and unavoidable. I am inspired Holbein and his brave confrontation with religion and mortality.
Hans Holbein the Younger, c1520-22, 'The body of the Dead Christ in the tomb', oil and tempura on lime wood, 30.5 x 200cm, Basel, Switzerland, Bavarian.
Wax is usually a material I feel very comfortable working with as it allows room for error by being heated up and re-modeled. So perhaps this is a medium I will consider for my final piece (although it has me questioning whether I want to break out of my comfort zone with my experiments and try something new). The utterly mimetic sculptures Thek makes using wax is inspiring - he has perfected the use of this material to the point where he is able to model so realistically that you are unable to tell the difference between one of his artworks and a piece of meat. When I saw his 'Hippopotamus Poison' at MoMa I really had to look closely to convince myself that it wasn't just a slab of preserved meat but was intact made from wax - I was so immersed in the effect he had created that I didn't want to believe it wasn't real (I want my viewers to feel the same / or similar).
“The picture seems to give expression to the idea of a dark, insolent, and senselessly eternal power, to which everything is subordinated, and this idea is suggested to you unconsciously. The people surrounding the dead man, none of whom is shown in the picture, must have been overwhelmed by a feeling of terrible anguish and dismay on that evening which had shattered all their hopes and almost all their beliefs at one fell blow. They must have parted in a state of the most dreadful terror, though each of them carried away within him a mighty thought which could never be wrested from him. And if, on the eve of the crucifixion, the Master could have seen what He would look like when taken from the cross, would he have mounted the cross and died as he did?... This picture could rob many a man of his faith," - Dostoevsky
'The meat pieces are still frontal attacks on formalism, the art world’s closely guarded safety zone. The installation leftovers are moldy stains on the modernist white box: organic to its inorganic, dirty to its clean; emotion to its reason.'
Meat Piece with Warhol Brillo Box, 1965, from the series Technological Reliquaries. Wax, painted wood, and Plexiglas, 14 x 17 x 17 in.
Untitled, 1966, from the series Technological Reliquaries. Wax, paint, polyester resin, nylon monofilament, wire, plaster, plywood, melamine laminate, rhodium plated bronze, and Plexiglas, 14 × 15 1/16 × 7 1/2 in.
Museo di Palazzo Poggi
Although I visited the exhibition just before this project started, I still took photos, notes and sketches to inform my own personal interest in the human anatomy and I it has become an inspiration for my own artworks I intend to make in this final project. My time was limited but this is a museum I will happily return to, perhaps to do some detailed studies of the human anatomical forms.
I've spent some time reflecting on my visit to this beautiful museum (not sure if I prefer this or the Hunterian!) and what I saw, both from a scientific and art perspective; although all the pieces on display were anatomical models, they were also sculptures which people had made and modelled based on life observation. The attention to detail when demonstrating a bodily model is astounding, being able to sculpt like that, gives other people the ability to fully understand their own anatomical makeup which they may usually avoid thinking about (because it occurs within their own body), their accuracy also gave the tools and knowledge to those aspiring doctors and surgeons who studied their work here.
What I really loved about the Palazzo Poggi was how old it was, built and curated at a time when a scientific approach to thinking was still very much a 'new' way of looking at the world, breaking apart from religion and causing many people to chose one over the other. This is something which I would really love to incorporate into my piece, the two contesting ideas/ ways of life. ' For as long as humanity has believed in a creator, thinkers have tried to quantify and evaluate the truth behind religion, trying to prove or disprove a supernatural force... Many scientists are religious, and many religious leaders are scientists. The religion vs science debate involves a few extremists who strive to shout louder than everyone else does.'
The artworks/educational anatomical models that are exhibited here, are done so in a very clean and clinical way, almost as if you're stepping into a doctor or surgeons mind. They are categorised in their display... treated almost as if they were real body parts being preserved and shown (What you are, I once was, What I am, you will become - inscription on Holbein's The body of the dead Christ in the tomb). Looking at their sleek glass shelving and display cases which are functional both aesthetically and in keeping the artworks safe, I too would like to incorporate a very clinical, doctor-like display for my final piece - I hope I will be able to create the same effect with my own work.
Preoccupied with the bodily rather than socially Grotesque with his fleshy pink body sculptures, the thing of nightmares that provoke a a very physical recation. Teeth growing from a fleshy tongue or breast are morbidly fascinating to look at. Diseased body parts that, at first glance, appear to be human but are remixed body-parts and distorted horrors from the depths of a dark imagination. Payne uses polymer clay, acrylic and human teeth and hair to create his own Bosch versions of bodily hell. The technique and subject matter is fascinating.
Less so with Hieronymous Bosch whose famously grotesque, surrealist and often excessively explicit and violent images are a reflections of purgatory, damnation and hell. Sin and the torments and violence of damnation are often depicted in religious art – Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) is a perfect example of this genre with his terrifying surrealistic visions of the torments of and punishments in hell. Considered by many as the most horrific, yet beautiful work in the history of art. The Garden of Earthly Delights (Triptych).
As the fundamental belief of those worshiping God was/is that he has the power to overcome all evil and deliver humans to a utopian heaven, the fear that paintings like Bosch’s instilled in people was used as a tool to control them.
This horror and openly gratuitous displays of morbidity were moved away from by artists and almost sanitised meaning the realistic horror of being crucified was no longer depicted as something so violent. In numerous artworks the crucified Christ is more often than not portrayed in a serene calm manner with his suffering removed, bathed in a pool of serene and heavenly light. The grotesque suffering that a human body would have endured being nailed to a cross and left to die is rarely shared and experienced by the viewer.
Although I love Picasso's work and his bright and bold compositions - the reason I wanted to visit his exhibition was because I heard that he had an entire room dedicated to his drawings of the crucifixion - I really wanted to see how he interpreted the religious scene and how he used his distinctive style to create an artwork based around the scene. On my way through the different rooms I also looked at all the other amazing paintings he did (some of the more upbeat and colourful ones) before delving into the crucifixion room.
The Dream, 1932, oil on canvas
Sleep and dream were central to the surrealist imagination and had allowed artists to represent women in voyeristic enjoyment. The Dream depicts a female figure in a state of abandon, perhaps after sex? (there are other subtle sexual connotations within the composition). The image goes beyond naturalistic portraiture, as it distorts the features bringing them into the absurd. The fact that the upper half of the sleeping face resembles an erect penis attests to the artists desire to overcome sexual separation, and perhaps is a comment on his sex life at the time (he was torn between two women).
Girl before a Mirror, 1932, Oil paint on Canvas.
It is presumed that the model for this painting was Picasso's mistress, Marie-Terese Walter who described their relationship as 'My life was always a secret with him, calm and quiet, and we didn't say anything to anyone and we were happy like that. That was enough for us ... I was smothered with love and kisses and jealousy and admiration. Happy, can i put it better than that?'. I'm completely in awe of how beautiful Picasso's paintings are, their colour, shapes, forms are so harmonious with one another that you become completely obsessed with whats going on in the canvas. He uses the perfect balance of colour and black, soft and sharp forms, distortion and reality that the pieces he creates are so aesthetically pleasing to look at that the viewers become lost in their compositions. I therefore really loved standing and looking at these bizarre, yet perfect paintings - not for my work (as it isn't my style), but just to appreciate his beautiful work.
The Three Dancers, 1925, Oil on canvas.
'The jagged forms of Three Dancers convey an explosion of energy. The image is laden with Picasso’s personal recollections of a triangular affair, which resulted in the heart-broken suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas. Love, sex and death are linked in an ecstatic dance. The left-hand dancer in particular seems possessed by uncontrolled, Dionysian frenzy. Her face relates to a mask from Torres Strait, New Guinea, owned by the artist, and points to Picasso’s association of ‘primitive’ forms with expressiveness and sexuality.' I found that out of the other Picasso paintings displayed in the main rooms, this was one of the most interesting- his style is less calm, and serene and a little more absurdist and grotesque. The three figures both lack and have human characteristics making them a weird combination of creature and human - their awkward sharp limbs jut out as they dance with one another keeping the sense of movement flowing through the canvas. Their creepy appearances are suggestive maybe of a drunken night?... when everything gets a little blurry and distorted, but still fun.
These dark, sketchy ink drawings capture the absolute brutality of death - his black marks are dragged and drip down the page following the line of the cross which definitely suspends some kind of person or creature in a surrealist, abstracted stroke. In some of the sketches, Picasso uses tenebroso, using a black background and painting or drawing the subject on top (also unusual from him). All of these preparatory drawings are so uncharacteristic of Picasso's style (usually using bright and vivid colours to bring out the positive side of life), yet are so completely perfect in their own way. Although there is little attention to accuracy or detail of depicting the religious event, it is clear by his passionate strokes and blotches that a traumatic, dark scene is being conveyed - everyone has the image of the crucifixion so engrained in their minds that they recognise the shape of the cross, and the figure that hangs from it - some are more clear than others. In the last few drawings, Picasso leaves the dark spilling ink to one side, and seems to focus more on breaking down the image of the crucifixion into its component parts, which coincidently look like bones, he demarcates each part of the body and cross, using shaded strokes to give the surrealist take on the event some volume.
The bottom three are my favourite visually of the drawings - they are so clean and sharp and define each part clearly as representing a body part but you really have to look at the image and break it down to figure out its intentions. Their simplicity is definitely their strong point, visually engaging they drag your eye around the composition which you can't leave. I want to figure out a way of materialising this into a sculpture ... harder to do ... treating each section individually, breaking down the image and keeping a common link between the component parts. I want my viewers to really think about how my art has been thought through and broken down, just like I did with Picasso's.
"Everything we love is about to die, and that is why everything we love must be summed up, with all the high emotion of farewell, in something so beautiful we shall never forget it." - Michael Lewis
Crucifixion, 1932, Ink on cartridge paper.
In No Hold Too Strong — a pair of oversized amputated thighs smeared with red animal fat — a mixture of jesmonite and aluminum produces a dull, matte silver that appears numb to the pain. By contrast, Bare and Writhe, in which two rounded hunks hang from the ceiling on chains, overlays its jesmonite base with a sickly green pigment enveloped in glass wax and honey. With a surface pockmarked by grapefruit peel, this is a vision of putrefaction as fascinating as it is nauseating. I really love how Wahid has suspended Bare and Writhe from a heavy metal chain, leaving them hanging and vulnerable - I asked myself how the artwork's meaning and appearance would have changed if they'd instead been exhibited on a wall / plinth / floor / cabinet? Although I find her choices of display for her Bitter Pith series a bit of a bizarre choice, I really love the way in which both No Hold Too Strong and Bare and Writhe were exhibited.
'Mallow', 2017, Water, sugar, gelatin.
"The London-based artist’s work, often executed in pinks, oranges and reds, drips with raw sensuality. Sex and the human body share a constant presence, with titles including My serous lining, Navel Gazing, Every mouthful of you, Hard Blush and I’ve got a burning desire (come on, tell me boy). Some sculptures are grotesque, like Caramel Highlights which triggers images of entrails freshly torn from the body. Soft Weaponry is tougher, showing sculptures which imitate snapped acrylic nails. In many of Jala’s pieces, conventional sculptural materials such as plaster, acrylic paint, lacquer, ceramic, steel, bronze and copper are combined with less expected, sometimes edible elements including sugar, gelatine, golden syrup, grapefruit, sweet orange, clove and bergamot oils as well as Kurdish sweets, invoking Jala’s Kurdish heritage." - Bryony Stone, 2016.
Caramel Highlights, 2017, Water, sugar, golden syrup, ceramic.
As shown in Bitter Pith
I feel like Wahid focuses her work's aesthetic a lot more around her materials, not overly thinking how her works will be displayed (often exhibited on the floor or shoddy shelves), she leaves the art to do the talking for itself rather than overly ostentatiously displaying her distorted textured pieces. I really love the intricacy and attention to detail that is evident in her work; she has clearly mastered the material of jesomite. The materials she uses for her artworks appear to be almost home made recipes, using a mixture of random ingredients to create these visceral pieces. However where I don't quite agree with her artworks is her display - I feel like people would respond a lot more strongly to her pieces if they were exhibited in a slightly different way, perhaps in an environment where there aren't objects or colours in its surrounding which distract from the artworks themselves. This is something I want to investigate in my work.... display - and how the display of an artwork can completely change and altar the piece's perception.
Leonardo da Vinci
In the 15th and early 16th centuries, Leonardo da Vinci wanted to gain a greater scientific understanding of the human body, its form and movement, and how to represent this realistically in two dimensions. He obsessively studied the inner workings of the body, dissecting over thirty human and animal body parts and intricately recording how our bodies work. By injecting wax into parts and veins he was able to isolate forms and preserve them long enough to make highly accurate drawings. His obsession with the inner workings of the body resulted in some of the most beautiful sketches of the human anatomy, not least those of a baby still in its mothers womb. DaVinci was pushing the understanding of the human body further than anybody else in the Renaissance with his scientific curiosity, but what many do not realise is that Leonardo’s anatomical investigations were never published and in the centuries after DaVinci’s death, in 1519, around 6500 surviving sheets from his notebooks were dispersed. By 1690 nearly all of his anatomical studies were held in the Royal collection where they remained unpublished until the end of the 19th century.
’If Leonardo da Vinci’s uncannily accurate studies of the human body had been published in his life time, they would've changed the course of science” Alastair Sooke
Da Vinci’s meticulous drawings first inspired me to pursue human anatomy as one of the main themes for my art work within this project. His sensitive, delicate and illustrative sketches are beautifully detailed, realistic and stylish and acknowledged today as some of the most important contributions to scientific advancement. Within this project, I'm really trying to thoroughly investigate my title and what it means to me and to my work - I've taken the classical definition of the 'grotesque' as well as its updated, modern use which I have interpreted as mainly a bodily theme. Da Vinci also inadvertently explored the same areas within his investigatory drawings (he drew fanciful caricatures of people he met, exaggerating their features to highlight their flaws as well as taking time to study the human anatomy in depth... which he, no doubt, found beautiful).
“Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses- especially learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else.” - Leonardo Da Vinci
Although this exhibition at the Tate Modern didn't directly relate to my title or theme for this particular project, I still wanted to go and see Modigliani's nude paintings, I wanted to see his treatment of the female form and how he can transform these women into seductive, enticing figures who you want to know more about. I mainly looked at the nudes in the exhibition and not the other, more formal portraits - which were still amazing to see, but not as relevant or as interesting to me or my work. One of the reasons I wanted to come to see this exhibition was because I recently read about the outrage Modigliani caused by being one of the first painters to depict pubic hair... this got me thinking about how people always have and probably always will be scared of their own bodies and anatomical makeup... something which I wish to investigate in my own work - I want to show people what they're really made of.
Reclining Nude on a White Cushion, 1917, Oil paint on canvas.
This was one of my favourite paintings on display in this exhibition. There is something so completely enticing and sedcutive about the model's expression and position on the lounger, all of her features have been accentuated , her hips bulge upwards whilst her waist seems to be concaving, shrinking in on itself, whilst her breasts appear to almost be floating. Her expression engages directly with the viewers, locking you into her gaze and you almost feel as though you're in the room with her, instead of seeing her realistically, the viewers see the mode through Modigliani's eyes instead, we are thrown into his world. What I love about this painting in particular is the way that Modigliani makes his viewers feel, he is able to manipulate their emotions and desires through a painting- something I find very hard to understand and to do myself. I definitely want to try and explore ways of achieving the same /similar effect in my own work, I'd like my final piece to resonate with my audience and to be remembered for the feeling it ensued in them.
Lying Nude, 1917, Oil on canvas.
This painting creates a very similar effect to the one above, only with the reversed view. The model still seduces the viewers, looking over her shoulder in an almost sultry way, inviting us into the scene to join her. Again, Modigliani creates a relationship between his painting and his viewers, and we leave feeling as though we had a connection with the world he has created. He was one of the first (revolutionary) artists who was brave enough to depict bodily hair on women. He painted pubic and armpit hair on his models instead of shrouding their private areas with a loin cloth or painting them bare - this caused huge outrage and controversy with his viewers at the time who were shocked and appalled that he had painted what he saw! I find it so incredible that people back then were so scared of their own anatomical make up that they would have paintings taken down from display because they were so offended. I really admire Modigliani's dedication to painting truthfully to our human anatomy but still being able to paint in his own style and as he saw the women.
Seated Nude (La belle romaine), 1917, Oil paint on canvas.
Slightly more modest, this lady is mainly covered up by a piece of fabric and her own arms - this could be interpreted as showing a kind of sensitivity and humility or potentially the act of undressing, she could be about to strip for Modigliani so she could pose nude, but instead he has chosen to depict her in the process of this happening. Because he doesn't show any pubic hair or 'lady parts' in this painting, it was one of the few which wouldn't have been considered ugly or offensive.
'With her dark hair and distinctive, pointed chin, the model in this seated portrait - known only as Marguerite - may also have posed for Female Nude. Modigliani probably used the wooden end of a paint brush to define the strands of painted hair, while aa thick, round brush created a pattern across her flesh.'
Nude on a Divan (Almaisa), 1916, Oil paint on canvas.
Caryatid, 1913, Oil paint and pencil on cardboard.
'Modigliani made more than seventy drawings of caryatids. Their highly stylised manner shows his absorption in a wide variety of arts then considered to be 'primitive', including African and especially Cambodian carvings. The drawings were preparatory sketches for sculptures, and Modigliani is said to have conceived of a ‘temple to humanity’ surrounded by hundreds of such caryatids. However, he appears to have made only one carving directly related to this crouching figure.'
The smooth, voluptuous, bulbous shaped of this woman are so soft and echoed around the canvas the piece kind of contains itself as well as keeping our gaze within the frame - the soft curvaceous shapes of the lady are also evident in his finished paintings where the women are depicted as curvy and shapely.
Nude Study, 1908, Oil paint on canvas.
Charged with raw expression, this unconventional nude shows the impact that innovative artists, including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, had on Modigliani's work. So completely different from his usually style of treating nudes with smooth curves and blended salmons skin tones, this work is bony, sharp and blue, making use of short and stubborn brush strokes which are more unforgiving to look at than his norm. For this painting, he re-used an old canvas which he flipped (the other work of a face is visible on the lower right hand side).
Emma Witter is a young artist from London who work with sculpting from animal bones, with her intention being to challenge mainstream standards of beauty. Her production moves across sculpture, set design and photography, exploring the aesthetic qualities of organic materials and processes.
When looking on the Hix art website I coincidentally came across Emma Witter who uses the exact same process that I have recently used in a small sculptural experiment of my own. She makes artworks from animal bones of various kinds that she often saves from her own food and that meticulously cleans and categorises. This is the same method I used to create my mini bone sculpture which I found very interesting as I've never come across another artist who uses this process and material... admittedly her sculptures are a lot more beautiful than mine. I was so intrigued by this finding that I decided to do some more research into her practise. Witter seeks to investigate ways in which art can operate sustainably, being the Hix artist in residence she now has a lot more bones available to work with.
Witter creates these extremely intricate and ethereal bone sculptures which resemble delicate floral and coral-like formations that stand at the verge of sculpture and design and suggest a potential bridge between art and food (waste). Since January Witter has taken over Hix Art and has been recycling the restaurant’s meat waste by turning it into beautiful sculptural pieces which are all going towards her next show, 'Bloom'. This show is based around creatively raising peoples' awareness to the amount of excessive waste the plane creates daily, in particular, restaurants. Witter does this by transforming materials destined to become garbage into long-lasting objects of beauty.
HER PROCESS: “It’s a fantastic opportunity for me because the location is so conducive to my productivity.” Witter says. “Being a meat restaurant, I have bountiful amounts of bones available from the kitchen, and I’m fortunate enough to have the use of Mark’s separate kitchen library to prep them. In the evenings I boil and scrub all the bones clean, and leave them overnight in bleach. Then in the day, I’m working down in the gallery creating the sculptures with him. As the menu changes slightly, I’m receiving different bones, which is a lovely natural guideline to works I’m then making. Like receiving different ingredients.”
As the sculptures are completed, one by one they are displayed up above the bar in the restaurant for customers to view.
The show seeks to raise the public’s consciousness on the amount of waste that is overlooked and to encourage people to accept bones as an art medium in its own right. “I get a very mixed bag of reactions when people see that I am working with bone, some is quite animated horror! Haha…” Witter recalls. “The floral shapes that I’m obsessing with are a result of me insisting on the harmless beauty of them. I want them to feel absolutely natural, weightless, elegant.”
Witter doesn't want to stop there, she is also interested in recycling all aspects of her own waste when she works with bones; “I would be proud if my work gave a nod to that, and I would certainly like to develop this idea of using an industry byproduct as artistic material.” Witter muses. “I would love to start creating my own plaster out of bone dust (which I am collecting) and also bone chalks, or mixing them with natural wax mediums etc. Bones can be used for all sorts of products, like soaps, glues, gelatins, fertilizers, charcoal, English soft porcelain (bone china), even a lot of photographic equipment, and I would love the opportunity to create my own by recycling bones.”
Many of Goyas works, particularly his engravings, are intentionally ghoulish, demonic and grotesque with distorted faces. Wild eyed jagged toothed goblins and monsters frequent many of the dark corners of his engravings. Critics believe these half-man half-beast creatures represented Goya’s view of Spanish society and the world and its corruption in the aristocracy and clergy. Set of 80 etchings completed in 1799 (Los caprichos) are great examples of this. Despite being the Spanish court’s artist, he was bold enough to brake with what he saw as boring classicism and played around expressively with composition, bold brush strokes and use of colours that have led to him being called the Godfather of modern art.
It’s not hard to find these gargoyle faces hidden amongst his work and what fascinates me about Goya is that although some of these characters are amusingly playful there is definitely a deeper more threatening social comment and reflection of darkness being explored and communicated. Making political and social comment as a means of communication through his art is very apparent.
I can definitely see the influence of Goya in Bacon’s later portraits with the expressively bold brushstokes and distorted, tortuous faces.
Three Studies for a Crucifixion, Bacon, 1962, 198.1 by 144.8 cm, oil paint
Crumb is an American cartoonist and prolific artist who contributed to many of the seminal works of the 'underground comix' movement in the 1960s, creating a very controversial but acclaimed body of work populated by exaggerated characters drawn in an extreme way, with an emphasis on overt sexuality and caricatured physical appearance. Crumb appears to use his art as a form of confessional, conveying his fantasies, fetishes and sexual quirks by putting pen to paper. In the 1960s, before his stylistic and overly-sexually charged cartoons became widely recognised, he was a greetings card artist. During this time he and his wife (and long term collaborator) took strong LSD which led to a 're-evaluation of his career' and marked a significant change in his artistic style.
'Then came the sexual revolution of the 1960s and a new-found spirit of free expression and acceptance, which led the American to publish his therapeutic artwork rather than consign it to the dustbin.'
When displayed on walls in a gallery, his illustrations appear to be normative, well mannered and orderly, with their demarcated black and white lines, however, it's not until you look a bit closer that the pictures come to life and their familiar vulgarity and rude nature come bustling out. I think Crum really captures something which I try to achieve within my own work here, I too want to encourage people to take a closer look as things are not always what they seem. Although we use very different approaches to art, the same intention unites us - what may initially seem to be one thing, is actually something completely different (whether sexually charged or grotesque in nature).
Robert Crumb’s Sex Obsessions, produced in collaboration with the publisher’s “Sexy Book Editor” Dian Hanson, includes celebrated strips such as My Troubles with Women and How to Have Fun With a Strong Girl, along with 60 single page drawings. They all depict similar characters in similar scenarios; physically powerful, large women who appear to be subdued by pathetic, wimpish and artistic nerd types. This creates a power play between size and strength, the roles have been reversed with the genders being flipped by Crumb; it is usually the men who are depicted and muscly, strong and dominant and women who are perceived as small, weak and submissive - this is where Crumb's fantasies become apparent (he is a small, weedy man himself).
“During adolescence I couldn’t fit in, and it was very, very painful. But it fired me to develop my own aesthetic. I was very much in pain about being this outcast, but it freed me to drop that Hollywood ideal and pursue the people that I thought attractive.”
“I made up for all those years of deprivation by lunging maniacally at women I was attracted to… squeezing faces and humping legs… I usually got away with it… famous eccentric artist, you know… they made allowances for my behaviour… I blush with shame at the thought of it.” Crumb
We are given an explanation into the appeal which these 'grotesque' caricatures have to a new generation by a gallery publisher who exhibited Crumb's work in 2016; “What’s exciting about the work is his openness to his own desire and erotics,” he enthuses. “There’s something irreconcilable at the heart of the work that doesn’t resolve towards a single vision of beauty, and which is at odds with much contemporary art. It’s about seduction and repulsion. You are drawn into the work and you are judging yourself as you look at it.” - Lucas Zwirner
Crumb’s work, although considered by many to be comical, is not perceived well by everyone. His portrayal of women, and his sexually rampant self-portraiture, led to vilification by feminist critics, who believe his work to be graphic misogyny and essentially porn “It had some validity,” he says now. “My work is full of anger towards women. I was sent to Catholic school with scary nuns and I was rejected by girls at high school. I sort of got it out of my system, but anger is normal between the sexes. OK, it can go to the top and men can harm women, but if anyone says they are not angry I don’t believe it, especially while your libido is still going. The men who are most charming are often the most contemptuous.”
More research about the Grotesque
“When we look into the dark, the monsters are always the same’
The Grotesque is thriving and as popular today as it was in the 15th century. The Grotesque in art can mean the strange and mysterious, nightmare visions of imaginary monstours and ghouls – a theme particularly obsessed over in the 18th century by artists and writers alike. But the grotesque in art goes back to the medieval imagination with grotesque monsters appearing in both paintings and literature (Beowulf) and most famously by the northern European artists of the 15th and 16th centuries like Hiernoymous Bosch, Bruegel and Grunewald, infamous for their terrifyingly explicit view of hell and the evil creatures that inhabit it. These views of the grotesque have not aged and are still as horrifying today as they were then. Images in the Bible or rendered in stained glass in the great cathedrals of worship are often depicting scenes of death and violence, it seems to be all around us more so than ever now with horror movies, television and a continued fascination with deformity, decay and our own bodies, a subject the Victorians were obsessed by. Preserving oddly mis-shappen foetuses, animals in jars. Grotesque works of the 20th c are numerous by artists such as Dali, Bacon, Picasso, Cindy Sherman, Damien Hirst the Chapman Brothers – latterly interpreted with more humour and a sense of the absurd.
Gursky at the Hayward Gallery
I don't usually tend to gravitate towards photographic work, I can appreciate its beauty and how hard it is to sometimes capture fleeting moments of our world on film, but I decided to visit the Hayward Gallery to look at Gursky's exhibition. The space was filled with enormous prints that could be anything from the interior of a factory or a store to a landscape or political scene - he creates a sense of overwhelming bustling business alongside compete tranquility and sterility. I found that his images almost more about the pattern the image shows that the actual content of the images themselves. Some of the images were really bleak and uninviting whilst others were overflowing with vibrant colours and forms that were almost breaking out of their photographic restrictions on the canvas, spilling out into the exhibition space. The sheer size of the printed images makes you really realised how advanced the camera is, the impeccable detail that Gursky's sense can pick up in incredible, from tiny details on a cyclists' bike to capturing labourers working in fields from a large distance - It makes me wonder how much editing was involved in this process and how many of the images were untouched and are just as they were seen and taken. Although I didn't find any images which I could directly link to my own work within this project, I still really enjoyed the exhibition and have been considering ways of incorporating photography into my work - even if that means just being able to really capture a particular area or aspect of my piece on camera - this could really highlight my intentions within my own artwork.
Steadman is renowned for his political and social caricatures, cartoons and picture books. His compellingly grotesque drawings of people, animals and the political sphere have become some of the most iconic and widely known illustrations of both the 20 and 21st century. Alongside his life-long friend, Thompson, Steadman took numerous psychedelic drugs which he suggests may be a reason for what he creates when he puts pen to paper... "you can do anything in drawing, as viciously as you like".
Over a period of twelve years, a film was made about Steadman, documenting his life as well as his artworks (which he refuses to sell - "If anyone owns a Steadman original, it's stolen.") 'For No Good Reason' explores the connection between life and art through Steadman's eyes. Its insightful, humorous and visually stunning, a study in honesty, friendship and the ambition that drives an artist. The film follows Steadman's rise to prominence which began in the early 70s during the 'fallout from the love and hope that had swept the western world' during the 60s. This legendary time for music, literature, art and philosophy was the catalyst for Steadman to express and chart the wreckage that followed; a large-scale disintegration of a demoralised counter-culture. His art gained recognition in the press and popular-culture publications for its bold comment on his fiercely heartfelt politics.
His work is richly creative and a visual feast about the power and importance of art... "I learnt to draw... to try to change the world". His work holds a type of anarchic energy, anger and free-spirit, he conveys his thoughts, friendships, fallings out and his one and passion for civil liberties. His dark days were especially evident through his 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' illustrations (a book which his deceased friend wrote) which are a lot darker than most of his other, more comical work.
A lot of Steadman's work is based around critiquing the political systems in place in bothe the UK and the USA, however he announced in the mid-80s that he wasn't going to draw politicians any more, partly because he'd decided that mocking them didn't change anything. "Well," he shrugs, "I did him because the Statesman asked me. I really don't like Osborne. I don't like Cameron, either. They've just got these balloon faces, haven't they? A crowd of bobble-faces. They all look like babies in suits – really pathetic." He sighs. "I don't know whether I do politicians or not now. I'm not sure." A shake of the head. "I'm not sure what I do."
"They'd see me drawing them and take it personally, like it was an insult, like I'd gone up to them and said, 'You ugly son of a bitch.'"
He'd been watching a Wallace and Gromit cartoon; "There was nothing vicious about it, and I was just laughing. Then you start thinking, after the event, why was I bothering to be vicious anyway, in drawings? Have I been unfair, you know, to be that vicious? Were human beings that bad? Isn't there a little compassion in them somewhere, in human beings?"
Some of my favourite of Steadman's drawings are the more grotesque and disgusting illustrations where you have to really look at his subjects carefully to figure out what he is trying to convey. He created a series of illustrations based around Leonardo Da Vinci and his practise, these drawings are meticulous and less 'disgusting'/'grotesque' than his others.
Steadman focused on the anatomical side of human nature (also inspired by Da Vinci's work) and drew some extremely detailed and meticulous components to an illustration which also has aspects of collage to it. It was this drawing which inspired me to step back from my usual 3Dimensional approach to art, and made me consider how illustration can convey the beauty of the grotesque as well as sculpture. The next step for my work within this project will be to create a series of drawings which respond to my title in a 2Dimensional way.
The Beauty of the Grotesque
Definition of grotesque
1a : a style of decorative art characterized by fantastic human and animal forms or similar figures that may distort the natural into absurdity, ugliness, or caricature. The Grotesque fits in between the real and the fantastic, the funny and the frightening.
b : a piece of work in this style an ornate structure, embellished with grotesques
c: one that is grotesque
French, Italian grottesco (as noun, grottesca grotesque decoration such as was apparently found in excavated dwellings), derivative of grotta.
Synonym Discussion of grotesque
fantastic, bizarre, grotesque mean conceived, made, or carried out without adherence to truth or reality. Fantastic may connote extravagance in conception or ingenuity of decorative invention. ⟨dreamed up fantastic rumors⟩ Bizarre applies to the sensationally strange and implies violence of contrast or incongruity of combination. ⟨a bizarre medieval castle in the heart of a modern city⟩ Grotesque may apply to what is conventionally ugly but artistically effective or it may connote ludicrous awkwardness or incongruity often with sinister or tragic overtones.
The Grotesque is both an artistic and literary term, and is a bit difficult to describe, as it is less of a solid definition, and more of a range between a number of different qualities. The Grotesque is primarily concerned about the distortion and transgression of boundaries,be they physical boundaries between two objects, psychological boundaries, or anything in between. Exaggeration also plays a role.
There are two main ways to define something as Grotesque, as evidenced by the diagrams:
1. The Grotesque fits in between the real and the fantastic, the funny and the frightening.
2. The Grotesque simultaneously fits somewhere between being funny and being frightening. (This is a bit more difficult to gauge, as what is funny to one person is frightening to another, so maintaining a bit of an open mind is helpful).
The term achieved a surge in popularity in the 1800s in England and Germany, where it was used for satire and caricatures. The main reason for this is that the Enlightenment was then underway—the Age of Reason. Thus, anything that was seen as excessive or exaggerated was considered to be comic, opposite to enlightened thought, and thus excellent fodder for mockery. Especially important in this period was Friedrich Schlegel’s 1804 Conversation on Poetry which refers to the “terrifying aspect of humor, the horrifying aspect of comedy,”