Thursday, November 23, 2017

Body (Human) Painted and Displayed (Tate)

William Blake
Los and Orc
ca. 1792-93
Tate, London

"This watercolor shows two of the characters in Blake's mythology.  Los has chained his son Orc to a rock in a fit of jealousy.  He regrets this too late: Orc's limbs have become rooted in the rock.  The sombre mood is conveyed by the dark colour which Blake chose to dominate the scene.  He used a pure brown ochre for the entire background.  Orc's shadow is a grey wash.  The light falling on the figures' flesh is shown with paint mixed with chalk and vermilion.  The yellow used in the foreground  glossy, transparent gamboge  has not faded."

George Richmond
The Creation of Light
tempera on panel
Tate, London

"Richmond used the same paint medium as Blake did for his temperas, and a similar range of pigments.  He made greater use of dark, intense, mixed greens than Blake.  He also built up transparent layers to a considerable thickness, probably through many applications.  The green hill in the foreground is heightened with gold leaf.  This painting was submitted to the Royal Academy exhibition of 1826 but was rejected.  This was probably because of the subject matter.  Even if inspired by Michelangelo, depictions of the 'Supreme Being', as here, were frowned upon."

Edward Poynter
Paul and Apollos
fresco on plaster
Tate, London

"Poynter was a key figure in the revival of ideal figurative painting during the 1860s.  This scene was intended as a trial piece to test the materials used in the fresco scheme for the church of St. Stephen in South Dulwich.  It represents two early converts to Christianity, the Jewish Paul and the Greek Apollos, and illustrated Paul's plea for Christian unity: 'I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase'.  The artist exhibited the panel at the Dudley Gallery in 1873 under the more general title of The Gardeners  sketch in fresco."

Henri Matisse
Nude Study in Blue
ca. 1899-1900
oil on canvas
Tate, London

"Matisse has not disguised the fact that this figure is a model posing in a teaching studio, probably the Académie Carrière in Paris.  His principal concern lay with the structure and proportion of the body, and the model's sinuous pose anticipates the more stylised arabesque figures of his later paintings.  Her surroundings are sketched in with broad brushstrokes, becoming abstract planes of colour."

Duncan Grant
Venus and Adonis
ca. 1919
oil on canvas
Tate, London

"Venus, the most beautiful goddess and the goddess of love, herself fell in love with the huntsman Adonis.  Grant uses the myth incidentally, to make a decorative painting from the idea of a female nude gazing after her departing lover, and to make a contrast between the way the old masters designed such a subject and his own more modern drawing of the figures."

Lovis Corinth
Magdalene with Pearls in her Hair
oil on canvas
Tate, London

"Figure painting was the dominant genre in Corinth's work.  He painted himself, his family and friends, as well as models, commissioned portraits and mythological or biblical subjects.  . . .  Corinth painted Mary Magdalene a number of times but never as dramatically as in this work.  Here the figure fills the small canvas from edge to edge, generating a compositional energy and intensity.  Areas of light and shadow are strikingly contrasted, and brightly coloured highlights are used to enliven the flesh tones."

Alice Neel
Ethel Ashton
oil on canvas
Tate, London

"Ethel Ashton, 1930, was painted at one of the most trying times in Alice Neel's life.  In May of that year her husband, the Cuban artist Carlos Enriquez (1900-1957) had left her, moving out of their New York apartment and taking their daughter Isabella to Havana to be raised by his two sisters.  Penniless, Neel was forced to sublet the apartment and move back to her parents' home in Colwyn, Pennsylvania.  Every day she would travel to Philadelphia to work at the studio of Ethel Ashton and Rhoda Meyers, two friends from the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, where Neel had studied between 1921 and 1925.  . . .  Of this time Neel later wrote, 'I worked at their studio every day.  You can't imagine how I worked.  I wouldn't have carfare; I wouldn't have enough for lunch.  I had a terrible life.'  . . .  In the short space of time that she worked in Meyers's and Ashton's studio, however, Neel painted a number of important early works, including portraits of both her friends."

Keith Vaughan
Small Assembly of Figures
oil on canvas
Tate, London

"The purposefully non-committal title 'Assembly' is intended to suggest, as it were, an echo of the humanist tradition without any longer making reference to any actual historical or mythological theme.  The painting began as an Expressionist abstract; the precise disposition of the figures evolved unforeseen from the development of the abstract elements.  There were no preliminary drawings." 

John Latham
Man caught up with a Yellow Object
oil on panel
Tate, London

"Latham used a spray gun to sweep the diluted black paint across a base layer of grey.  The shape of a body developed out of this haze.  It remains fragmentary and truncated, partly overtaken by the accompanying yellow object.  This loss of bodily form suggests more profound anxieties, which were widespread in the 1950s, about alienation and the futility of individual action.  However, Latham himself sees the yellow object as a symbol of enlightenment, and he associates the tiny dots of spray painting with the units of time that constitute reality."

Roger Hilton
Figure, February 1962
oil on canvas
Tate, London

"'Figure, February 1962' is one of a number of large, overtly figurative paintings which Hilton began to paint in 1961.  When first shown these works provoked dismay and amazement from previous admirers.  In the early 1950s turning from figurative imagery to abstraction had been provocative.  A decade later, for an abstract painter to paint figurative images seemed equally shocking.  Also, the kind of figuration practised by Hilton seemed outrageous.  It is not straightforwardly imitative or representational.  As in this case, Hilton's figures have an awkwardness which recalls the direct, uninhibited quality of children's art.  Yet this is married with a knowing sensuality, and suggestive eroticism, which contradict any impression of naivety."

David Hockney
Man in Shower in Beverly Hills
acrylic on canvas
Tate, London

"The painting includes some of the artist's favourite themes: moving water, the curtain, domestic settings and homoerotic imagery.  The curtain motif (in particular, its flatness and similarities to a painting) had interested Hockney for several years.  The source for the figure is a photograph taken by the Athletic Model Guild, which specialised in male nudes; the figure also has similarities to several images in Physique Pictorial.  Hockney had intended from the beginning to add the foreground plant but, having difficulty with the feet, he bent the leaves to cover them."

Derek Boshier
Frightened Cowboy
oil on canvas
Tate, London

"The artist selected cotton canvas to paint this version of the Cowboy series.  A white priming covers the front and to some extent the back.  Thinned oil paint is visible around the edges of the figure, indicating that it was drawn before being blocked in with one flesh colour.  Some darker and lighter cream-coloured paint was then added to create a little form.  . . .  The sky area has been smothered in brush-textured paint, horizontally brushmarked with decisive strokes forming ridges of impasto.  Some of this paint is clearly applied wet on wet." 

Jedd Garet
To Rule the World
acrylic on canvas
Tate, London

"Garet painted a series of works in the 1980s which he says contained 'no natural elements, including the figures. They were statues, not people.'  The shafts of light passing behind the figure suggest cinema or stage lighting, heightening the sense of artifice.  . . .  He began using two canvases for his paintings simply to work on a larger scale.  However, this enabled him to skew the image by misaligning the two sections.  He described the title as merely 'a phrase I liked'."

Lucian Freud
Standing by the Rags
oil on canvas
Tate, London

"Like many of Freud's picture Standing by the Rags was painted in his London studio.  The rags, which are in fact heaped in front of a hidden radiator, are used by Freud for wiping brushes and have been interpreted by some critics as a coded sign for the artist's presence in the image.  . . .  The degree of attention given to the detail and texture of the rags is equivalent to that given to the figure."

Gillian Carnegie
oil on panel
Tate, London

"The paintings in this series date back to 1998, and have often been characterised as exercises in which the artist 'experiments in composition, light, palette and painterly technique'.  The title follows a system of classification that allows the artist to differentiate one painting from another, without any specific meaning.  . . .  The cropping of the image at the hips and the upper thighs is a constant in the series, and the canvas surface is always filled with the subject, removing any other elements that could suggest a precise setting."

 all quoted passages based on notes by curators at the Tate in London