Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Display: Sadie Lee

Display: Sadie Lee

Just what do lesbians do in bed? According to classical paintings, they hover close together, arranged in aesthetically pleasing contortions, apparently enjoying blissful arousal by barely touching. Typically, they will bedded in a pleasant pastoral landscape or ancient marble Mediterranean Palacio, with Cupid and his various cherubs hovering nearby.

In her new series of work, specially commissioned for the GFEST Gaywise FESTival Visual Arts Exhibition, Sadie Lee (born 1967) challenges and subverts this classical imagery, reimagining some of the 18th century Rococo artist François Boucher’s works, with both a lesbian gaze and female empathy. Introducing a certain element of kink, and building on a personal interest in pornography, she rewrites this sterilised version of lesbian sex as an I Modi for the iPhone generation. Her use of vintage imagery from 1970s porn mags echoes the classical masters’ borrowing of imagery from past works as well as their use of models, who were all but sex workers. By expressing the subject’s genuine pleasure, however, Lee introduces an important – and previously absent – element to her versions of these images: empathy with the model. As a lesbian artist, there is also a strong sense of desire. Beautiful yet explicit, her works teeter on the oft debated line between the erotic and pornographic.

GFEST Gaywise FESTival Visual Arts Exhibition: http://gaywisefestival.org.uk/visual-arts/
Menier Gallery, 51 Southwark Street, London SE1 1RU
10 - 22 November 2014

A panel discussion on LGBT 'Myths and Mythology' in art – past, present and future – featuring Sadie Lee, Anna McNay and others, will take place at the Menier Gallery on 21st November at 6pm. The event is free but tickets must be booked through the GFEST website.

Sadie Lee’s artwork on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/sadieleeart

Friday, 21 November 2014

Video Review of Allen Jones RA at the Royal Academy of Arts

Allen Jones RA
Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington Gardens, London
13 November 2014 – 25 January 2015

Risking the wrath of many, London’s Royal Academy is playing host to a long-overdue thematic overview of the controversial works of British pop artist Allen Jones.

Best known for his iconic furniture pieces – Table, Hat Stand and Chair (all 1969) – the latter of which was attacked with paint stripper by feminist campaigners in 1986, Jones’s work encompasses far more than just these furore-inducing sculptures. From beautifully crafted drawings to vibrant large-scale fauve-style paintings to painted steel sculptures, his range of media is wide, but his focus and subject matter remain consistent.

Jones’s fascination with the figure and sexuality emerged early on in his works, with pieces such as Hermaphrodite (1963) and Untitled (Man Woman) (1963) showing a fusion of forms that is later picked up in his paintings and sculptures of couples dancing, bodies close, becoming one. Repeated emblems recur, such as legs, which take centre stage in paintings like First Step (1966) and Drama (1966) – both with the entwining of male and female counterparts – and 3D pieces such as Secretary (1972). But it is legs in motion that really fascinate Jones, and his dance works are apparently so accurate that one critic claimed to be able to recognise which dance was being carried out by each sculptural pair.

Jones, who began painting at the height of abstract expressionism, sought to prove that figuration was not dead. He wanted to extract the figure from the flat surface of the canvas. His steel sculptures involve bending and twisting of metal to create the shapes of individuals and couples. Maquettes for these can be enjoyed in a small room in which his studio shelving is replicated – an insight into the workings of his mind and hand.

Further such insights can be seen in some of the storyboards and sketches displayed in the room of drawings – each image a step towards the final scenario depicted large in the finished painted works, many of which involve dense and complex scenarios, full of movement.

Movement is key to Jones, and his experimentations with representing motion can also be seen in his Bus paintings, where the tilt and blur give the idea of the energy of the vehicle passing by.

Continuing with the idea of dance, the final room is bisected by a chorus line of sculptures, starting with Red Ballerina (1982), which relates to the paintings and sculptures in the previous rooms, and progressing through Hat Stand, London Hollywood (1979) and Refrigerator (2002), to the more recent commissions with Kate Moss – resulting in the photograph Body Armour (2013), in which the model wears Jones’s 1976 metallic body cast Cover Story – and Darcey Bussell, and ending with a new work produced for the Royal Academy, To be or not to be (2014), in which the figure steps completely away from the ground.

Curious Woman (1965) represents one of Jones’s early attempts to lift the figure out of a 2D representation. He bought the breasts from a joke shop in New York, but then had some trouble using the resin to cast them, as it kept heating up and melting them. Luckily, it was winter and he found a solution by opening the window and placing them in a snow bank on his window ledge, thus enabling the casting process.

Jones has often been the subject of attack for sexist, objectifying works. Ironically, his choice of fetish clothing on many of his sculptures keeps his work fresh and timeless. Playboy has, indeed, been the source of much of his material, but his response to it is actually very tongue-in-cheek and his representations of the female form consider it from all angles, as a kind of icon. Love it or hate it, Jones’s work still has the power to shock, 50 years after it was made. He is a key figure in British art history and a Royal Academician well deserving of this exuberant show.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Interview with Adeline de Monseignat

Adeline de Monseignat: interview

Adeline de Monseignat: Home
Ronchini Gallery, London
14 November 2014 – 17 January 2015

Dutch-Monagesque artist Adeline de Monseignat’s work is greatly influenced by Sigmund Freud’s concept of the uncanny. For her current exhibition at the Ronchini Gallery she has created a large-scale installation exploring childhood memories.

Taking the exact measurements of the bedroom in which she grew up, she has recreated the space using the red-and-white striped awning from her family home as the walls and her old blue-and-white striped bed linen.

Nestled in the bed – which itself is surrounded by partially built walls, comprising material-wrapped bricks and oddly angled mirrors – is a family of what the artist refers to as “creaptures”. Now recognisable as De Monseignat’s motif, these glass spheres filled with vintage fur call into question the distinction between animate and inanimate objects.

This particular arrangement pays homage to Louise Bourgeois’s marble sculpture Cumul (1969). The installation is strangely claustrophobic, at once familiar and strange – indeed, the epitome of the uncanny.

Studio International met De Monseignat in her south London studio a few weeks before her exhibition to see the work in progress and to talk about some of the ideas that inspire her.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Studio Tour with Agathe Sorel

Agathe Sorel: Studio Tour

Agathe Sorel talks to Studio International about the work in her retrospective exhibition at the Studio of Contemporary Art, Forest Hill, London. Her work has been principally interested in the line, and its 3D – or even 4D – properties, which she has explored in print works and sculpture.

To watch the video of this studio visit, please go to: http://www.studiointernational.com/index.php/agathe-sorel-studio-tour

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Essay: Myths and Mythologies. Urban Myths. GFEST Gaywise FESTival Visual Arts Exhibition 2014

Myths and Mythologies: Urban Myths
GFEST Gaywise FESTival Visual Arts Exhibition 2014
Menier Galler, 51 Southwark Street London, SE1 1RU
10-22 November 2014
Launch evening, 11 November 6- 8 pm (by invite only)


According to Helen Morales, a Cambridge University academic specialising in mythology, scholars have produced as many definitions of myth as there are myths themselves. For her, a myth is as much about process as it is a thing.[1] It is ‘a continual process of telling and retelling.’[2] Rudolf Bultmann suggests that the real purpose of myth is not to present an objective picture of the world as it is, but to express man’s understanding of himself in the world in which he lives.[3] Indeed, the bare narrative is only part of what makes a myth a myth. The ancient Greeks had a collective psychological and religious investment in their stories.[4] In more recent times, Freud, for one, was fascinated by myths and sought long and hard to account for their power. Morales goes so far as to claim that without classical mythology, there would be no psychoanalysis, and this is not too bold a claim, since much of Freud’s work is based on his interpretation of the Oedipal myth (amongst others).[5] Freud saw psychoanalysis, like myth, as driven by an inexorable movement towards truth, a means to discover, explain and understand oneself.[6] For him, myths were case studies from which to draw conclusions about men’s universal experiences.[7] As attempts to understand and define the self, myths play a particularly important role when it comes to anyone who sees him- or herself as different from the ‘Other’. It is unsurprising, therefore, that they play an especially pertinent role within the LGBTQI community.

One prevalent mythological tradition is the oral – or, nowadays, written – form, deriving from the early tradition of story telling. Another, however, is the visual. Western art history is full of scenes from classical mythology, Christian religion and pagan folklore. Take, for example, Titian’s group of large-scale mythologies inspired by the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses, painted for King Philip II of Spain between 1556 and 1559. And what about Correggio’s Danaë from 1531 or the various representations of the Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna (1579-83), Poussin (1634-35 and 1636-37), Rubens (1635-40) and Picasso (1962-63)? Depictions of scenes of mythological rape, or of the foreplay leading up to the act, have long been an apparently licit way to portray erotic scenes and the enjoyment of sexual activity.

Looking through a queer lens, there are numerous characters and motifs from mythology that have acquired extra levels of meaning through artistic representations. The myth of Jupiter and Ganymede is an iconic gay story, hugely popular in Roman art and literature, as is the myth of Apollo’s love for Hyacinthus. Exemplary for female same-sex desire are Iphis and Ianthe from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, although Ianthe does believe Iphis to be a boy, so gender is somewhat blurred here. Of course, the myth of Hermaphroditus opens up gender binaries altogether.

This year’s GFEST Gaywise FESTival – now in its seventh year – has taken this vast playing field of myths and mythologies as the theme for its visual arts exhibition at the Menier Gallery. With three commissioned artists and four further participating artists – international and at differing stages of their careers – the responses have been as varied as they have carefully thought out, serving to support Morales’ opening gambit about the myriad of possible interpretation.

Matthew Stradling perhaps toes a line closest to the story thus far, with his contemporary – and queer – renderings of three traditional art historical subjects: Lucretia, St Sebastian and the Dying Slave. What Stradling takes from the myth of Lucretia – raped by Tarquin, son of the last king of Rome, an act which ultimately leads to her suicide – is the idea of shame, especially as a converse to pride, and the question of why so many images of gay men have been images of suffering. In his painting, he places himself as Lucretia, who, shown baring her breasts, is both pained and suffering, but sexual at the same time. Her pearl necklace is a symbol of femininity, as well as of sexuality. A central element to Stradling’s works is the idea of power play. Michelangelo’s Dying Slave is shown in urine-stained underpants with ‘thank you’ stitched on the band – thank you for making me submissive, the artist explains. Similarly, St Sebastian, the adored object and penetrated and passive male – claimed for the gay world by Derek Jarman’s 1976 film Sebastiane – is depicted by Stradling with an erection, forcing the question: what does it mean to be passive? In an SM world, mightn’t the myths of suffering and shame actually be turned on their heads?

Sadie Lee also works with art history, but has chosen just one artist, the 18th century Rococo painter François Boucher (1703-1770), of whom she has created four pastiches, challenging myths of female sexuality in the process. Her confrontational works, which subvert Boucher’s idealistic scenarios with women in a pastoral landscape, lying together, with Cupid and his cherubs overhead, are sensually arousing and erotic in a way that the originals never could be. In place of Boucher’s voluptuous goddesses, Lee introduces real women from vintage 1970s porn magazines, engaging in explicit acts of lesbian sex. This element of kink, building on a personal interest in pornography, has been described as an I Modi for the iPhone generation. By expressing the subject’s genuine pleasure, Lee introduces an important – and previously absent – element to her versions of these images: empathy with the model. Her ‘borrowing’ of imagery of sex workers also raises concerns about the status and role of the models used in past times.

The third commissioned artist, João Trindade, works in quite a different manner. His medium is photography and, rather than looking at classical myths, he draws on the myths we build up about ourselves and other people every day of our lives, putting each other into boxes and creating barriers. He looks at judgment and prejudice and how to overcome these in order to create a space where love and communication can flourish. Building on a personal story, he has worked with a transgender model and created sculptural mannequins out of wire and mesh and photographed them in positions suggesting manipulation and puppetry. He deliberately seeks to make his photographic work look naïve, reinforcing the idea of myths as elementary means of exploring and uncovering our identities, as psychological case studies, and as tales of becoming. As Freud’s colleague Otto Rank phrases it: ‘Myths are, therefore, created by adults, by means of retrograde childhood fantasies, the hero being credited with the myth-maker’s personal infantile history.’[8]

Mathias Vef also works with photography – as well as film – to explore myths from a psychological angle. He sees myths as common narratives, often unverifiable, but important elements of all cultures, especially subcultures. Furthermore, he sees them as both a form of collective unconscious within the (sub-)culture and as means of connecting (sub-)cultures with the mainstream. That is, he notes that stories of LGBTQI life do creep into straight culture, but that somehow they always remain mysterious and other, almost sacred or mystic. Vef is interested in what he terms ‘a contemporary, new or future mythology; myths in formation’. Transcendent narratives inspire his atmospheric work, as he speculates about ‘the aesthetics of mythology’, working out a personification of forces and archetypes. ‘Myths to me,’ he says, ‘are a kind of psycho-genetic bond throughout generations […] Maybe like Carl Jung who spoke of universal archetypes that are expressed in mythology.’ His video work, I Do Me, was inspired by body modification which he sees as a pure manifestation of the will, an embodiment of mythopeic thought.

Jenny Welton’s series of work, Dark Paradise (2013), is also photographic and takes as its starting point the myth that homosexuality can be cured. Drawing upon personal experience, Welton surveys various claims of cure, past and present, actual and fictitious. Her surreal images are accompanied by newspaper and textbook cuttings and propaganda-style quotations.

Gökhan Tanriover’s work brings a contemporary psychological take to the classical myth of Narcissus, using it as a starting point to explore issues of body image and dysmorphia. Radical myths about how we should look are proliferated by the media and are known to disproportionately affect the LGBTQI community. A former doctor and current photography student, Tanriover is fascinated by the motion and distortion that water can cause on subjects behind the lens. The technique he has used for this series incorporates water and glass to cause partial distortion of his subjects, reflecting the bias we have against our own bodies. The water and use of reflections on glass also recall the story of Narcissus, something with a personal element for Tanriover, who used to spend his summer holidays at his grandparent’s country house in Turkey, within walking distance of a small creek, said to be the body of water in which Narcissus drowned.

Finally, returning to the medium of paint, Enzo Marra creates texture by dragging away and building up pigment in his depictions of Francis Bacon, an artist whom he considers to have become a mythic figure and an embodiment of the concept of ‘gay artist’. Describing him as ‘larger than life’, one might wonder, is this icon a myth towards which Marra – and indeed the other artists at GFEST – aspire, or one from which they learn and move away? And how much verity can be attributed to this myth? How much of it is a skewed representation of a figurehead by outsider eyes, prejudiced and judgmental, putting people into boxes, just as Trinidade has highlighted? Echoing Marra’s own words, Morales concludes:

‘What makes someone mythic is not whether or not he lived, or lived well, but whether or not he was larger than life. Mythic heroes were – and are – outrageous and outstanding. They are phenomenal. They distil some collective ideal or fantasy.’[9]

As celebrators of LGBTQI identity and culture, all artists – and no doubt visitors – participating in GFEST certainly tick these boxes. If myth is a process, an evolving tale, let us come together now to change the future versions that are told.

[1] Helen Morales, Classical Mythology: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2007), p.2
[2] Morales (2007), p.115
[3] Rudolf Bultmann, ‘New Testament and Mythology’ (1941) in Kerygma and Myth, ed. Hans-Werner Bartsch, tr. Reginald H. Fuller (London: SPCK, 1953), p.10
[4] Morales (2007), p.31
[5] Morales (2007), p.69
[6] Morales (2007), p.71
[7] Morales (2007), p.74
[8] Otto Rank, ‘The Myth of the Birth of the Hero’ (1914) (reprinted) in In Quest of the Hero, ed. Rank et al. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990), pp.3-86, p.71
[9] Morales (2007), p.55

All images © the artists
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