Sunday, 28 December 2014

Home

Zarina Hashmi, Letters from Home, 2004, Portfolio of woodcut chine collie and metal cut chine collie on paper,
30.5  x 22.9 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art. 



Saturday, 15 November 2014

Library

The Great Library of Alexandria, O. Von Corven, 19th century.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Letter

Jean-Honore Fragonard, The Love Letter, 1770, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Embrace



X-ray technology of late continues to be utilised in the art world to create innovative and surprisingly fascinating pieces.

The works of Saiko Kanda and Mayuka Hayashi capture skeletons wrapped in deep embrace, stripping human relationships bare. By divesting the couples of their clothing, flesh and skin the artists hoped to ‘eliminate the information of two people’ and narrow focus upon the essence of the human bond.

The pieces are cold yet intimate, the x-ray technique removing the sentiment of traditional portraiture to capture something far more compelling.


Saturday, 20 September 2014

Whale





Bryant Austin's work is photography to be seen in person. His exhibitions display intimate portraits of whales displayed life-size, so the viewer can better experience what it is like to meet with an oceanic giant face to face. 

Austin is a man of patience. He sometimes waits weeks or months for one of his subjects to come close enough to capture. Whales cannot be corralled for a shot after all - and his technique demands the whale come within four to six feet of his lens. 

It is a risk few people would take in the name of art. Though gentle, whales with their enormous size are easily able to injure or kill with a misjudged movement. But Austin has found whales to be amazingly careful in their dealings with him, the enormous pectoral fins of humpbacks passing beneath him precisely as long as he is sure to remain still. 

He has also had a calf rest against him gently, and wrap a flipper around him when he was in a particularly despairing mood, following his lack of success after he had sold his house and car to fund his cetacean-filled dreams. He has also been offered a regurgitated piece of enormous squid tentacle as a gift (it was spat in his face). 

I have not seen one of Austin's exhibitions for myself yet but hope to soon at the Maritime Museum. 


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Black Swan


The beauty of the black swan is obvious – but they also have an interesting place in Western history. 

It was believed for centuries that such a creature was an impossibility. Rather like the phrase ‘rare as hen’s teeth’, the black swan was used as a symbol of that which could not exist. The poet Juvenal popularised the phrase ‘a rare bird in the lands and very much like a black swan’ (rara avid in terries nigroque simillima cygno) that was a common expression in 16th century London. “All swans are white” was a widely known truth. 

Upon the discovery of Australia and the sighting of black swans by explorer Willem de Vlamingh in 1697 this phrase became immediately redundant. In 1726 two birds were captured north of Swan River and transported to Jakarta to prove their existence to naysayers who held to old belief systems. 


Governor Phillip observed in 1789 “A black swan, which species, though proverbially rare in other parts of the world, is here by no means uncommon…a very noble bird, larger than the common swan, and equally beautiful in form…its wings were edged with white: the bill was tinged with red.” 

The black swan transformed into a representation of fragility of thought systems. It is also possible for any system to collapse with the emergence of a ‘black swan event’ that undermines its fundamental propositions.


Wall Street traded and finance professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb classifies many significant financial and historical events such as the invention of the Internet, World War One the September 11 attacks as ‘black swan events’ – unpredicted and influential events that shift traditional means of prediction such as standard economic theory. 

The black swan is the principal charge on the shield in the coat of arms of Western Australia.


Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Penelope


Angelica Kauffmann, 1772, Penelope is Woken by Euryclea 

Penelope, Queen of Ithaca, remains one of the most interesting female figures in Greek Mythology. She is most widely famed and idealised for her long and determined wait for her husband, Odysseus, to return from the battlefield of Troy despite claims he had certainly perished.

However, those who identify her purely as a paragon of chaste, wifely virtue are quite mistaken – she does indeed possess a vast number of feminine virtues respected by the society of her time, but so too is she in possession of other qualities which demarcate her as the equal of Odysseus, renowned for his cunning and the devisor of the ever-famed Trojan Horse ploy.

Penelope at various points through Homer’s famous poem is herself dubbed as “exceedingly cunning” and praised for her supreme intelligence rare even amongst the great queens.

"She is so dowered with the wisdom bestowed by Athene, 
to be expert in beautiful work, to have good character
and cleverness, such as we are not told of, even of the ancient
queens, the fair-tressed Achaian women of times before us, 
Tyro and Aklmene and Mykene, wearer of garlands;
for none of these knew thoughts so wise as those Penelope knew..."

                                                              (2.116-22)

Pressured into marriage by the Suitors who wish to gain control of the kingdom she as Queen retains rule over in Odysseus’ absence, she devises endless stratagems to delay their efforts to subjugate her. The most well-known is her promise she will re-marry only when the burial shroud of her father-in-law is complete. Secretly, she sneaks out of her room every night to unpick what she had woven the day before so the task has no end.

Angelica Kauffmann, 1764, Penelope at her Loom

The question that will always plague scholars, is if and when Penelope knew the beggar that came to ask for her kindness, and later participated in the contest to win her hand, was Odysseus in disguise. Was she, at last, giving in to the pressure to marry – and called in a state of defeat for a contest to determine who would win her hand? Or did she suspect Odysseus’ presence and design the quest knowing with his proficiency with a bow he was the only man who might win it?

The relationship of Penelope and Odysseus is marked by ‘like-mindedness’ (homophrosyne). They are united, says Lombardo, in their similar cast of mind, wiliness, congruence of interests and cautiousness. De Jong further comments on Penelope and Odyssey’s similarities, concluding “Their capacity to control their emotions and remain silent, or to say something other than what they feel, marks Penelope and especially Odysseus as the typical heroes of the Odyssey, a poem of disguise and dissimulation”.

Yet even when faced with Penelope’s at last unrestrained anguish, as he stands concealed by her side as in his beggar-disguise, Odysseus’ self-control and “protective hardness of heart” (Lombardo 1994) remains in place.

“So her lovely cheeks coursed with tears as she wept
For her husband, who was sitting before her.
Odysseus pitied her tears in his heart,
But his eyes were as steady between their lids
As if they were made of horn or iron
As he concealed his own tears through guile.

                                                         (19.224-29)

Odysseus homecoming and final revelation of his identity is carefully plotted and controlled. It is both surprising and frustrating to such a man that Penelope at the last refuses to accept his true identity by openly doubting he is who he claims to be. It is not until he has given up hope, and asks that a bed at least be made up somewhere in the house, so he might rest at last, Penelope slyly commands for her marriage bed be moved for the stranger out into the hall. Odysseus bursts out – it is impossible, as he fashioned the bed himself, and one leg is composed of the trunk of a living oak tree. “By withholding her acknowledgement, Penelope shows that she is as self-controlled as Odysseus and exercises her control over Odysseus’ homecoming just at the point when he through it was assured, in a response that reminds is how much his success has depended on her all along” (Lombardo 1994).

Francesco Primaticcio, 1563, Odiseo y Penelope

Yet when they are together once more, barriers down between them, their reunion is one of happiness and relief expressed by Homer thus:

“He wept as he held his lovely wife, who thoughts were virtuous. 
As when the land appears is welcome to men who are swimming, 
after Poseidon has smashed their strong-built ship on the open
water, pounding it with the weight of the wind and the heavy
seas, and only a few escape the gray water landward
by swimming, with a thick scurf of salt coated upon them, 
and gladly they set for on the shore, escaping the evil;
so welcome was her husband to her as she looked upon him, 
and she could not let him go from the embrace of her white arms." 

                                                          (23.233-40)

Monday, 4 August 2014

Red


Frank Cadogan Cowper, 1926,  'La Belle Dame Sans Merci', Private Collection.

As a flame-tressed maiden myself, I may say without bias redheads make the best-looking women. 

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Shrouds

Rene Magritte, 'Les Amants', 1928. Oil on Canvas, 21 3/8 x 28 7/8', MOMA.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Leopard



Currently enjoying a renaissance in the fashion world, leopard has been a prominent fixture in clothing styles for centuries, signifying exoticism, primal sexuality, and power.

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries predominately a feminine pattern, the print is unusually distinct from the fragile florals and lacework which align with the Western cultural ideal of the childlike, delicate woman apt to wilt that have otherwise dominated ladies' wardrobes.


Print by Louis Osse after Sigmund Freudenberger, c. 1776, 'Elegant Interior With Man
Sitting In Armchair In Front of the Fireplace, with His Wife On His Knees.'

Une soie brochee de 1760

18th Century Leopard Gown, The Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Louis Carrogi Carmontelle, c. 1780,  'Madame de Moracin'

Leopard fur, that of a ferocious nocturnal predator, seems out of place wrapped around female bodies preceding the modern age where gender roles have progressively broken down to yield to greater equality and a broader idea of femininity. As seen above and below, the bodies I speak of are not purely those of the femme fatales and seductresses who have been looked down upon and excluded from traditional ideas of what a woman should be, but aristocratic and socially distinguished ladies also.


Jean-Marc Nattier, 1742, Oil on Canvas, Constance-Gabrielle-Magdeleine Bonnier de la Mosson,
The J.  Paul Getty Museum.
Peter Edward Stroehling, 1807, 'Princess Augusta'

Though not generally considered appropriate for men to wear today (as a result of the lingering Regency and Victorian shift into comparatively plain, unadorned clothing in rejection of pre-Revolution male ostentatiousness), leopard pelts or leopard print fabrics were for much of human history an aspect of male couture as well as female. It functioned organically as a symbol of dominance and ferocity in battle, frequently sported by kings and nobility. 


Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1778, 'John Campbell, 1st Lord Cawdor'.

Jean-Marc Nattier, 1756, 'Portrait of Jean Victor de Rochechouart, Duc de Mortemart'.

Venceslao Verlin, Oil on Canvas, 'An Interior with Elegant Company'

Occasionally the more daring amongst modern male fashion followers, such as Mr West, tap into this old association with their outfit choices, channelling the leopard’s raptorial strength.  


It is perhaps the association with status which caused leopard to infiltrate women’s clothing in a societally accepted fashion – it was never accessible to the poor, either through the fur from the animal itself or through imitation, until modern fabric printing processes increased who could afford to sport it. Unlike open expressions of sexuality and battle-might, it was permissible for woman of appropriate status to indicate her social position through her dress and so leopard print progressively infiltrated the mainstream.


Mrs Jacqueline Kennedy
Queen Elizabeth II

Grace, Princess of Monaco
Nevertheless, feline rosettes have always and will likely always have a slightly subversive flavour. Though women might have ‘got away’ with wearing it due to its luxury status, leopard’s connection with primeval nature has always teased at the mind.   


Louise Glaum, 1920.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Monsters






"And it is Goya's ability to see that leaves one silent with admiration" - Hughes 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Zavros

Michael Zavros' works look almost like photography. Rather, he uses pencil and paint to create his life sized horses, with leap into the air and fall from the sky. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Zavros and his wife a few years ago. They are lovely people.










Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Trojan Horse





'hedonism(y) trojaner', Babis Pangiotidis, resin and computer keys.

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