After reading “Transcendence of the Body in Art”, I was particularly interested in the concept the Stephen De Staebler’s work revolving the human form. The distortions in De Staebler’s sculptures play a pivotal role in the way the human form is exhibited in modern art, however it is less used as a concept to portray the spirituality of the frame, however it has been interpreted more in order to perceive human condition. Artist Stephen De Staebler’s bronze sculptures contain elongated and abstracted limbs and altered faces, used to conjure the mental state of the subject. De Staebler’s figures are often presented broken and fragmented, and such arrangements conjure up ideas of the body not being analysed as a singular entity, but as a set of contradictions. De Staebler also argues that this idealisation with body perfection, and that this fragmentation is a celebration of the aged body
“I think that idealisation of the body has been a very questionable enterprise at best because at its extreme what it leads to is kind of a glorification of youth which just doesn’t allow for graceful aging”
In addition to this, in De Staebler’s Man with Outstretched Arm II, we are presented with another incomplete form, where De Staebler attributes this incompleteness to the human mind’s fear of the unknown, and through the frontality of the sculpture he recognises this limitation.
“The human body has a frontal orientation for life: our eyes are on one side; all our senses are orientated on the front. One of the things that no one really wants to talk about is this horrible blind spot that we have behind us. We have to go through all waking life with the unknown behind us. It’s part of the anxienty of being a creature, I suppose, because you don’t know what threat may be behind”
Thus, it could be argued that in order to represent the true human form it cannot be the unachievable idea of perfection and transcendence, but rather a portrayal of our own limits, which account for ourselves with conscious, but as a and as a carnal, living being. On the other hand, portraiture’s own limitations in what it is trying to represent could be seen as a reason against it being the true representation of human form
Through the Venice Biennale and Slip of the Tongue I was allowed to see a wide variety of artworks inspirational to my own work, particularly through process more so than concept. I have found ample opportunities to portray skin as opposed to the application of paint.
Slip of the Tongue
I was particularly taken aback by artist Nairy Baghramian, whose work replicates the human form, but looks more at the body within space, which is prevalent in the piece “Retainer”, where metal rods stack over each other to support large silicon and rubber plates, coloured ranging from light to strong skin tones. The work is not so much a representation of a mouth with dental apparatus, but more an interior of the mouth, observing it as a separation of spaces, varying on the changing scape of the jaw, observing the mouth as if it bends space. I am particularly interested in the application of the silicon to create these flesh-like forms within my own work on such a vast scale. Her replication of flesh can also be seen in “French Curve”, where Baghramian uses epoxy resin to create a curve structure resembling a minimalist spine.
In Jean-Luc Moulene’s “Tronche”, we see the material of concrete given a fluid, soft form placed on a pillow. I was particularly interested in this piece as it was reflective of my lard in condom sculptures, and using material that has different qualities to represent the human form. It has inspired me to look at creating lard sculptures on a grander proportion, and how to present my works as opposed to just using a plinth, as the soft material of the blanket brings forward the density and gravity of the obscured face.
When looking at attitudes and ideologies of previous theorists on the ideal human form, Mirzoeff’s ‘bodyscape’ came of great aid. The book focuses on the arguments posed by previous ages on the search that Western art has indulged itself in for the utopian figure, entwining it with the contemporary ideas of looking at more Avant-Garde bodily forms.
I was intrigued by Mirzoeff’s in depth explanation about the Renaissance’s search for the Utopian figure and the remnants of how culture pursues that today. Mirzoeff uses the Vitruvian man as a key example of this, with its geometric forms. But then Mirzoeff contravenes this by asking ‘how can this be an example of the perfect form when the subject is incomplete?’ and explains that the body itself is spatial, and not merely an outline
I personally found the book particularly interesting to read due to the relevance it has to my project as coming from a traditionalist portrait artist’s background, and the evidence and arguments raised allow me to look at other beliefs in my research. Although the book was highly relevant, I found the book rather dense and at times difficult to comprehend.
In order to play with the viscous properties of lard as a painting material, I have decided to paint solely with lard and observe the qualities it has on the surface of board. The tension of the lard allows me to build up a thickness onto the surface and carve the lard on the surface as it becomes almost a 3-dimensional sculpture on the board. The use of light plays a pivotal role in this piece, as the thickness of the lard creates overhanging shadows and begins to give the skin a sagging quality and thickness to the work in which I am trying to achieve.
In terms of the pose, as I have a slight frame I was also interested in how the properties of lard can be manipulated to represent bone, such as in the collar and the jaw hanging which brings the face further forward in the ‘painting’. I was interested in the frontality that we as humans are faced with in day to day life, as all of our senses are situated in the front of our bodies, and this limitation of view makes us fear what is out of view.
In this portrait I have begun to thicken my paint through mixing it with lard. The properties of the lard allow me to push further the viscosity of the paint and allowing the passages of paint on the canvas to flow around the canvas and replicate the idea of flesh on the canvas. I have chosen upon lard as opposed to paint thickener as I am interested in the idea of the material giving a sense of substance to the work, as using animal fat in the painting gives an essence of the animalistic nature we as humans have, and thus has interested me in making work which brings forward the human figure as carnal beings as opposed to a glorification of us as intelligent or superior beings. I personally don’t think I have achieved this concept as well as I have achieved the application of paint, and will attempt to push this further by creating thicker masses of paint, and deconstructing the portrait further to allow this idea of man becoming heaping masses of flesh further in my work. I am also currently working with the idea of scraping out the eyes, or painting them out in order to dehumanise the figure and also allow the viewer to focus more on the direction of paint. I am also working with the idea of hanging the work upside down for these same reasons, inspired by the presentation of Georg Basilisk’s self-portraits.
The lard itself through it’s properties adds it’s own qualities and limitations on the work. I am personally interested in the fact it will never dry, as this means that through gravity makes the work possibly ever changing through time, and can be proportional to the aging of skin. Also, the fact that lard ‘goes off’ creates almost a time limit on the painting, which allows me to become less precious with my work, whilst I am also curious as to see the change in the painting, wondering if it will decompose or even bring mould onto the canvas.