Art: Natalia Goncharova

Natalia Goncharova

The first retrospective of the (take a deep breath) female Russian avant-garde artist, painter, costume designer, writer, illustrator, and set designer Natalia Goncharova is being held in the UK at the Tate Modern and will be available until the 8 September 2019.

When embarking on this art journey and blog around two years ago, I had no idea what my preference would be or what would interest me. It has been a journey of self-discovery and a lot of learning along the way. Though very early on, I knew that I would make the effort to celebrate and learn about the works of female artists. Living in London has meant that I have been able to enjoy the increase in exhibitions to celebrate the works of solo women artists, such as Lee Bul, Dorothea Tanning, Diane Arbus and Lee Krasner just to name a few and may it long continue! For those interested in female artists, I recommend following @thegreatwomenartists on Instagram, where Katy Hessel does an amazing job of introducing up and coming women artists as well as historical figures.

Natalia Goncharova

Born in 1881, Natalia Goncharova grew up in the Tula province, some 200 miles away from Moscow. She was born to a family of “impoverished aristocrats” who made their fortune through textiles, and as a result, this meant that she was familiar with all the stages of textile production, in addition to, nature and farming life. This influenced a lot of her later work through the design of costumes and fashion, as well as her paintings of traditional Russian dress and life.

In Imperial Russia, life and society were dictated by rigid class structures, though Goncharova did not fit into these accepted categories. She was a founding member of both the Jack of Diamonds (1909–1911), Moscow’s first radical independent exhibiting group, the more radical Donkey’s Tail (1912–1913), and with Larionov (her life-long partner) invented Rayonism (1912–1914), see more on this below. She was also a member of the German-based art movement known as Der Blaue Reiter.

Her work greatly influenced the avant-garde in Russia and she was not afraid of being controversial. In 1910, her first solo exhibition was denounced by the press as “disgusting depravation.” Russia, clearly, was not ready for her. At her exhibition, where she displayed the first time her depiction of female nudes ultimately led to the confiscation of her two female nudes and her ‘God(dess) of Fertility painting by the police. This led to her being on trial for violating a law relating to the public display of ‘corrupting’ images but was acquitted. These are currently displayed at the Tate Exhibition.

Goncharova’s experimentation with self-fashioning succeeded in provoking a reaction and brought her considerable attention. Her first retrospective exhibition in 1913 confirmed her as one of the most successful and radical artists, where over 12,000 people visited the exhibition. She was a force to be reckoned with and broke down the barriers of what society deemed what a woman should and should not do. 

“As an aristocrat’s daughter, a radical artist and a woman she always stood apart” – Tate Modern Exhibition Guide

Key Pieces

The exhibition is displayed roughly in chronological order and the key influences on her art during that time. Below are a few key pieces in each room to illustrate how she is a pioneer of “everythingism”.

  • Countryside: Peasant Woman from Tula Province (1910) is a beautiful example of Goncharova’s eye for detail and realism, in particular, textiles which continued to be explored and developed throughout her life. The bold lines contrast with the intricate pattern on the traditional costume making it a very striking portrait.
  • Moscow: Peasants Picking Apples (1911) marks a change in Goncharova’s painting style. Influenced by European painting, realism made way for old colours and minimal and flattened surfaces. On the opposite wall, there is Queen Isabeau (1909) by Picasso, the similarity is clear. I am not actually a fan of this painting as it looks like something that would be included in a children’s book but recognise it is a key piece in her repertoire and emphasises her ability to adopt many different styles.
  • 1913 Exhibition: Gardening (1908) is one of my favourite pieces, where the limited palette reminds me of the French Impressionist style. Goncharova expresses a particular interest in work completed by women, such as them washing linen or harvesting, have a look-out for others in this room.
  • Fashion: From the accounts of people who met Goncharova testify to her unique approach to self-presentation, including painting her face and wearing extravagant outfits. Fashion designer Nadezhda Lamanova commissioned Goncharova to create works for her fashion house, where she chose to use a striking colour palette in Design with birds and flowers. Study for textile design (1925–8)
  • War: In 1914, Goncharova and Larionov arrived in Paris, however, by August it was the outbreak of the First World War. In this room, it displays her series of Mystical Images of War. This was the first time she used lithography to produce these hauntingly beautiful black and white prints. The White Eagle, Maiden on the Beast and Angels and Aeroplanes are just a few of my favourites
  • Art and Religion: central to the development of Russian art is devotional religious paintings, however, this was an exclusively male practice. Goncharova entered a challenging territory when she applied her own approach using simplified forms. Many at the time thought it was inappropriate and yet were acknowledged at the time to being some of her strongest works. My favourite was Christ the Saviour (1910-11)
  •  Modernism: this is the room that introduces the new movement that she created with Larinov Rayonism, look out for the colourful and electric painting Dynamo Machine (1913)
  • Paris: In 1919, Goncharova moved to a flat in Paris where she would remain for the rest of her life. Having a studio enabled her to return to large scale works, including the beautiful Spanish Woman with a Fan (1925-9) and Spring (1927-8) which is stretched over a frame creating a free-standing screen.
  • Theatre: the final room brings together Goncharova’s sketches, costumes and set designs from several ballet productions. The costumes in this room are splendid and not to be missed, my favourite being The Firebird which is one of the most enduring productions in the Ballet Russes repertoire.

Rayonism

Rayonism, or rayism, was based on the effect of light on landscape or cityscapes. Goncharova and Larionov developed a new modern style to express energy and movement. It is a subset of Russian Futurism and the movement was inspired by scientific understanding of the material world through x-rays and radioactivity, as well as, the fourth dimension.

Extraordinary Pioneer of Everythingism

The exhibition celebrated an extraordinary woman who defied conventions and had her own voice during a time when many others wanted to silence her. Highly recommended, 3.5 out of 5 pineapples. As always, I would love to hear what you think so please do leave a comment below!

With Sweet & Sour Love,

Pineapple Chicken x

 

Art: Food – Bigger than the Plate

The latest immersive and interactive exhibition at V&A museum explores our current and future relationship with food, available until 20th October 2019, it brings together different innovators, communities and organisations to consider what collective choices will lead a more sustainable and delicious food future.

It is a topic that is close to my heart, food sustainability is a key concern of our times and rightly so. One has to consider how we will feed the world in the future where population growth is expected to reach close to 10 billion people by 2050  and without damaging our world even further. The V&A tastefully explores this question and gives us hope that there are people out there doing their best to change the world.

Key Highlights

The exhibition is split into 5 key components, starting with composting and navigated all the way to eating; representing the natural food cycle. I have highlighted my favourite pieces and new ideas from the exhibition below.

Composting

Compost is the organic matter that has been decomposed in a process called composting. This process recycles various organic materials otherwise regarded as waste products and produces a soil conditioner (the compost).

The exhibition starts off with the consideration that if you are a consumer, you are also a producer. If you eat, you produce waste – not just the fundamental human poop but also the by-products that come with food production.  It is a lot of waste and our usual reaction is just to get rid off it, it is “undesirable” and ends up in landfill or our oceans. It breaks the cycle of nutrients. This is exactly why we need to familiarise ourselves with the natural cycle of reproduction, growth and decay which returns organic waste to the soil to provide nutrients for future growth. Luckily there are a lot of smart people who have started to think outside the box!

  • Loowatt (2019) – Closes the loop on human waste, they have developed a waterless flush toilet and manages the collection, transfer and treatment of faecal sludge. Waste is converted to energy and fertiliser. An innovative and sustainable way to manage human waste across the globe.
  • Urban Mushroom (2019) – Oyster mushrooms growing on a bed of used coffee beans from the visitors of the V&A museum. This was an extraordinary way to recycle used coffee grounds which normally just end up in the landfill. Is this the future of farming in our cities?

Farming

Farming is the fundamental way to grow our food, however, there is a disconnect between us and how food ends up on the table. With the rise of human convenience, everything is packaged and beautifully displayed in our supermarkets; often from far-flung and exotic places. Recently I bought green grapes that came all the way from Brazil, and I had to stop and think – wait .. is this right? Should I not just eat produce that is in season? By being removed from the process and the slick machine of globalisation has meant that produce is available all year round – do we stop and think – how was this grown? where did it come from?

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Key highlights for this section of the exhibition is the beautiful wall art by Fallen Fruit, which was inspired by depictions of fruit from the V&A collection.

Having lived in Hong Kong for two years, I was surprised and humbled to see that there is a small food revolution occurring and is being displayed back in London, my home town. HK Farm is a collective of artists, designers and farmers who grow food locally on rooftops and questions the values of the contemporary city in the process. Being able to grow and produce food right in the heart of one of the world’s greatest concrete jungle was refreshing to see.

I would also recommend everyone to take time to sit down and watch a video montage on European food production Our Daily Bread by Geyrhalter and Widerhofer (2005). It is not an easy watch, but necessary.

Trading

https://images.app.goo.gl/wNHqsRJyBQEKYaUX9

How do we get our food? How is it transferred to us? How many hands does it need to pass before we get to consume it? This section of the exhibition explores the globalisation machine and how it is easy to hide the environmental and social costs of food production.

  • Ester Hernandez: Sun Mad (2008) – This iconic poster (above) is by the Chicana (American – Mexican) artist Ester Hernandez, it was created to draw public attention on the human cost of the grape harvest, including the harmful effects of pesticides on pickers. In 2008 as displayed above, it was updated to include an “ICE” bracelet to signify the fate of many immigrants farmworkers working in the US.
  • Johanna Seelemann: Banana Story (2018) – This was another enlightening video on the world’s most popular fruit. It challenges the simplistic narrative of the “Made in” label. The video is a story of one banana who travels 8800km, crossing multiple national borders and 33 hands before landing on the shelves of a consumer.

Cooking

Evolution of cooking by Ferran Adrià was explored in this part of the exhibition, the head chef of El Bulli from 1987 until 2011, changed the way restaurants cook and serve food around the globe. His cooking extends beyond cooking and explores the deep history, in what he considers the fundamental part of human evolution. The drawings reflect his understanding and analysis of the development of cooking in human history.

Eating

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Eating – my favourite part of the cycle and comes to the end of the exhibition. The most memorable display is “Self Made” by Christina Agapakis & Sissel Tolaas (2013)  and it is definitely not for the squeamish! Some of our tastiest food is made with the help of microbes. Cultured from some famous individuals such as Heston Blumenthal’s, their bacteria was used to produce cheese forming a “microbial portrait”. The project was to challenge our perceived notion of bacteria and develop understandings of the microbiome and its role in how our bodies function. Grim, but a must see.

A wonderful display and truly enlightening experience. I did come away feeling that I should reconsider becoming a full vegetarian though! As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on the exhibition and your thoughts of food in general.

With Sweet & Sour Love,

Pineapple Chicken x

 

Art: Sorolla – The Master of Light

No painter before or since has painted Mediterranean sunlight like Joaquín Sorolla

In 1908, Sorolla was considered as one of the greatest living artists and his works has finally returned back to London a century after his exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in Mayfair. The National Gallery has curated 58 spectacular pieces of work, many of which are from private collections, spanning his whole career. It is a rare opportunity to see them all together in the beautiful Sainsbury Wing and I cannot recommend the exhibition enough!

Sorolla, The Master of Light

Sorolla was born in Valencia and his talent and determination to be an artist developed through his work retouching plates for a photographer. His talent led him to be admitted to the Academy of San Carlos in Valencia at aged 15. His further studies in master painting led him to Rome and Paris. Very early on, Sorolla’s strategy was to send large scale paintings on dark and troubling social themes to major exhibitions in Spain and abroad, where he sought and gained recognition. No subject seemed to restrict Sorolla’s paintings, he also painted his family, portraiture and landscapes, my favourite which are explored further below. 

Sorolla painted a variant of impressionism, which can be considered the first distinctly modern movement in painting. Developed in Paris in the 1860s, it spread throughout Europe. The style focuses on colour and light, which Sorolla was particularly infamous for. In 1906, Sorolla exhibited for the first time at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris, one of the main impressionist galleries. The Master of Light, interestingly, did not capture the British audience at that time but his works were particularly revered in the US. In 1908, Sorolla met philanthropist and collector Archer Milton Huntington, who made him a member of The Hispanic Society of America in New York City. This led to one of his largest commissioned works, which took 7 years to complete the 14 paintings known as Vision of Spain which adorn the walls of the gallery of the Hispanic Society.

Sorolla suffered from a stroke in 1920 which meant that he was no longer able to paint and died three years later at home with his family by his side. Unfortunately, after his death, his work went out of fashion and Impressionism was replaced by personal expression and avant-garde movements such as Dada, Surrealism and Expressionism. It is only in recent years where there have been a series of exhibitions in Spain, Germany, France and the US has reignited his popularity.

Social Painting

Since 1884, Sorolla had set his sights on the coveted first-class medals in Madrid’s Expoicion Nacional de Bellas Artes that was held to stimulate national artistic production and it was an opportunity for Spanish young artists to be recognised. During this tumultuous time, there was a shift in paintings of classical subjects to the dramatic changes that Spain was undergoing. Sorolla’s most famous social paintings include Another Marguerite! (1892) and Sad Inheritance (1899). My favourite paintings were And They Still Say Fish is Expensive! (1894) and Sewing the Sail (1896). Though contrasting in mood, the thoughtful depiction of emotions and light is truly captivating; the size of the paintings and the use of colour and light can only be appreciated in person.

https://images.app.goo.gl/E1ksGw2An3iPPZXq9

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Family

Evident through his paintings, Sorolla loved his family and the portraits of his children and his wife are some of his greatest works. Though the female model was not identified in Female Nude (1902) it has been suspected that it was wife, Clotilde. Inspired by Sorolla’s visit to London and seeing The Rokeby Venus displayed in the National Gallery, he captures the beauty of the female form and the luscious silk and lace fabric on which she laid. Other notable paintings include My Children (1904)Mother (1895-1900)Clotilde in a Black Dress (1906)Maria Painting at El Pardo (1907); and Joaquin Sorolla Garcia (1917)

https://images.app.goo.gl/cpyEZVoebmWmWSPm8

Beach & Landscapes

Sorolla grew up by the sea and after 1900 he created a large body of work outside capturing the pleasures of families and intimate scenes of the beach. These paintings brightened the exhibition as if capturing a sliver of the sun in each and was a breath of fresh air (it was also a stark contrast to the terrible summer we are having in London). Notable pieces included Young Fisherman, Valencia (1904); Running along the Beach, Valencia (1908)The Smugglers (1919) but my favourite was After the Bath, the Pink Robe (1916)

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Dynamic, vibrant and vivid; Sorolla was a true Master of Light. Obviously, this exhibition is awarded 5 out of 5 pineapples. I would love to hear your opinion of his work and whether any of you have seen any of it before? What are your favourite pieces? Have a sun-filled Sunday!

With Sweet & Sour Love,

Pineapple Chicken x

P.S. For those are interested in learning more, the curator wrote a wonderful article here

Art: Lee Krasner – Living Colour

A phenomenal pioneer of Abstract Expressionism who has been overshadowed by her more famous husband, Jackson Pollock, finally gets her time to shine. It has taken more than 50 years for her works to return to Europe in the latest exhibition at the Barbican. Lee Krasner: Living Colour presents her artwork throughout her life and provides an intimate insight into an extraordinary woman. The power of her art is evident throughout the exhibition reflecting her vivacious character. The major retrospective of her work is a rare opportunity to see some of her work all once space, in place better than the wonderful Brutalist vaults of the Barbican.

This is so good that you would not think it is done by a woman – Hofmann

Lee Krasner: Her Life

Though the exhibition was not presented chronologically ordered, I feel that her life story is the best way to showcase her art. In the below, I have selected a few of my favourite pieces from each decade to give a glimpse of the gems you will find at this exhibition.

The 1920s – Born in Brooklyn 1908, Krasner knew she would be an artist by the age of 14; which I think is amazing as I wasn’t sure of anything myself at that age. Her determination meant that she applied to the only school in New York to offer an art course for girls – Washington Irving High. One of the earliest artwork displayed was a self-portrait drawn having after graduated from Women’s Art School at Cooper Union. This small, easily overlooked, drawing is not as colourful as the others on display but what I believe to represent her changing identity, where she moved from her birth name of Lena to the more androgynous Lee.

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/486924
Self Portrait, c.1929-30

The 1930s – The Wall Street Crash in October 1929 marked the beginning of the Great Depression. It forced Lee to leave the National Academy and enrol on a teacher’s course at the City College of New York because the tuition was free. During this time, she was completing life drawing courses with Job Goodman who focused on classical methods of drawings – think Renaissance Masters. Her life drawings were one of my favourite series of her work because of the remarkable detail captured of the human body, and the use of line and shadow.

Studies from the Nude, 1933
Studies from the Nude, 1933

The 1940s – This was a particularly tough time for Lee because in 1945 she moved to Springs, Long Island after her father’s death the year before, which rendered her unable to paint anything more than “grey slabs”; despite her marriage to Pollock in 1945 as well. Surrounded by nature and the change of scenery, there was a transformation in her and the “Little Images” were created. It was in 1947 when Lee created my next favourite piece where she turned two old wagon wheels from the farm into mosaic tables. Using bits of costume jewellery and any random colourful knick knacks, she created this charming piece.

Mosaic Table, 1947
Mosaic Table, 1947

The 1950s – After the “Little Images”, Lee held her first solo exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in October 1951. It was the start of her large contemporary pieces, however, like many other contemporary artists at the time, the painting had failed to sell. Ripping them up (as you do) and painting black and white drawings and shredding those as well, the shreds became the beginnings of a series of collages. This technique, reworking and destroying previous works, is seen throughout her later years as an artist. It was the Summer of 1956 when she painted a series of paintings unlike any other. By this time, Pollock’s alcoholism was acute and it was on the 12 August when she received that fateful call with the news that Pollock died in a car crash killing himself, a friend of his lover and only his lover as the sole survivor. The warped pink of the flesh and abstract eye or face is a shocking contrast to her earlier work. I personally found it almost too painful to look at.

The 1960s – Lee took over Pollock’s studio after his death, she was a pragmatic woman and recognised that it was the largest space she had with natural light. This was the beginnings of her large artwork, unrestricted in space, her pieces fill the lower floor of the exhibition space. In the period when she was suffering from chronic insomnia, she worked in the dark, but because she only works with colour in the natural light, Lee opted for a restricted palette of white and umber (a dark brown). These pieces differ again from her previous style – another rebirth. It is as if she let loose to let her energy and emotions spill and rupture onto the canvas. This period of darkness was relatively short lived as by the early 1960s, colour bursts back into her paintings but Lee continues with a limited palette. She embraces her inner Matisse and nothing seemed to have held her back.

with colour one obtains an energy that seems to stem from witchcraft. – Matisse

The 1970s – Another decade, another change. Lee refused to have a “signature image”, she was a formidable force that is ever evolving. The change was stark, moving away from the energetic and dynamic strokes of the 60s to the hard edge and calculated forms of the 70s. She continues to extensively use colour but in a very different way. She paints a piece entitled Palingenesis during this time, which is the Greek word for re-birth. As noted above, this been a fundamental and consistent theme throughout her decades as an artist.

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Olympic, 1974

Obviously, this exhibition is awarded 5 out of 5 pineapples! An exceptional exhibition for an extraordinary female artist in her own right. No longer does she need to be remembered as the wife of Jackson Pollock, but as Lee Krasner – a rebirth. As always, I would love from you and your thoughts, so leave a comment below!

With Sweet & Sour Love,

Pineapple Chicken x

Art: Phyllida Barlow

Phyllida Barlow

Phyllida Barlow’s cul-de-sac showcases an entirely new body of work at the Royal Academy of Arts located in the contemporary art galleries, The Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries, which will be open until 23 June 2019.

The British Sculptor is famous for her use of inexpensive everyday materials to create precarious structures filling spaces which they are held. In the form of a “cul-de-sac”, with only one way in and out, there are no barriers for visitors to explore the artwork. The guide that accompanies the exhibition explains that there are usually three protagonists when it comes to her artwork.

The first protagonist

The first protagonist the artwork itself, her use of materials such as plywood, plaster and polystyrene, in addition to the transparency in how her artwork is created. This is part of her wonder as she breaks the conventions of traditional sculpture. Barlow takes inspiration from her surroundings; particularly domestic and street worlds. The untidiness of urban leaving, repairs of buildings and infrastructure repairs holds a fascination for Barlow and is often expressed in her work.

Using such inexpensive materials enables Barlow, unlike bronze, stone or steel; to retain the freedom to make changes to her artwork as it develops, or even change/redo previous works; conveying a sense of transience and impermanence. The unrefined quality of her work, combined with the appearance that it will topple over any minute reflects the chaos and messiness of urban life.

Her work may not be considered beautiful but it certainly emits great energy; when looking at the art close up, the creative process is clear. A visitor should also consider whether you have space to run should the artwork decides to shift from its position of zen!

The second protagonist

The second protagonist is the exhibition space which Barlow considers to be of equal footing with her artwork. The relationship between the two is crucial and the placement of the installations are carefully considered. This is demonstrated wonderfully in this exhibition where her voluminous work fills the whole gallery space. When one looks up, it is difficult to separate her towering structures with the ornate gallery’s curved ceiling. They are as if one.

The third protagonist

The third protagonist is us – the visitors to the gallery. How the individual pieces are placed and how one might circumnavigate around them (such as there is only one way in and out); to explore and wander around spaces is of critical importance in Barlow’s work. The encounter and the residual memory that the visitor is left with has long preoccupied her. This is particularly explored when she represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2017. She considers how the public reacts and interacts with inanimate sculptural installations (normally one would just stand and stare). This is carefully considered in this exhibition and as a visitor took the opportunity to weave in and out of the artwork and get up close without being reprimanded. Being able to explore is freedom.

Arte Povera

When searching to understand Barlow’s influence of her work, or what art movement she is part of, it is clear that she remains undefined and does not follow convention. Her work shows influences from Arte Povera, Pop Art and New British Sculpture amongst others. Arte Povera means “poor art” where poor refers to the use of inexpensive materials compared to traditional ones such as bronze or carved marble in sculpture. Using such dispensible materials was to challenge the values of the commercialised contemporary gallery system. The term was coined by Italian art critic Germano Celant in 1967 to describe a group of young and anti-elitist artists. It is considered as one of the most significant and influential avant-garde movement to emerge in Europe in the 1960s. The movement was in contrast to the sensibility of American Minimalism by using performance, and unconventional approaches to sculpture, such as installation. There was no manifesto drawn up for the Arte Povera, as a key factor of the movement was the rejection of rules and pre-existing structures.

The movement was at its height from 1967 to 1972, but its influence on later art has been enduring. In Japan, the Mono-ha group looked into the essence of materials and stepped away from technological modernism. In the US, the terms anti-form and post-minimalism was used to describe work that also rejected the sensibility of Minimalism.

Barlow’s influence

Barlow had an important influence on younger generations of artists through her teaching a the Slade School for Fine Art where she later became a Professor of Fine Art. Her infamous students include Turner Prize-winning and nominated artists Rachel Whiteread and Angela de la Cruz. She became a Royal Academician in 2011 and continues to live and work in London.

What a phenomenal and accomplished female artist, I would recommend this exhibition for anyone interested in contemporary art or one who is curious to try a different art experience. 4 out of 5 pineapples.

With Sweet & Sour Love,

Pineapple Chicken x

P.S For another splendid review of another exhibition of her work please see this article here.

 

Art: The Renaissance Nude

Happy Bank Holiday everyone! Did you all have a wonderful weekend so far?  I have switched up my usual long read on the weekend to cover the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts (“RA”) – The Renaissance Nude which is due to finish on 2 June 2019. I want to ensure that for any of my readers who may be interested can still have time to do so after reading my review 🙂 Without further ado, let’s get straight to it!

Exhibition

Located on the top floor in The Jillian and Arthur M. Sackler Wing of Galleries of the Royal Academy of Arts, the exhibition explores the development of nudity in 15th and 16th-century art. It was a pivotal time for nude in Western art because of the renewed interest in the human body, both from a scientific and artistic perspective. In particular, nudity was transforming Christian Art, where the stories of the Bible from Adam and Eve to crucifixion were retold with exquisite works.  

For a Y generation like myself, nudity in art is not something that I have considered given its proliferation in contemporary art and just everyday life of having access to the internet. Scantily clad influencers and models in magazines do not even get a raised eyebrow in our modern age. Having said that, my workplace still feels that we need to be protected from such images. The firewall has blocked my blog because it contains “Adult Material” but it really is no surprise given it is an art and happiness blog after all! Yet this warning message clearly summarises the controversies of nudity, though it has become more widely accepted, there is a very fine line between acceptable, erotic or profane. I believe that the general consensus is the more covered up it is, the better!

Adult Material
The RA has intimately navigated nudity through the ages by displaying a wide range of mediums, from painting and prints to sculptures. Nudity is not discriminatory, from the beautiful to the shockingly horrible or cringe-worthy, “varied” summarises this exhibition. I found the flow of the exhibition difficult to follow but I would recommend the accompanying audio guide. It is worth the additional cost as it brings key paintings of the exhibition to life. Some of the excerpts were narrated by Stephen Fry, who was a pleasure to listen to as he elaborated the tales/history behind a piece. I recognise that this exhibition may upset some people’s sensibilities and nudity is not everyone’s cup of tea but it is well executed and thought out, as a result, I give it 3.5 out of 5 pineapples! 

Key Highlights

The Good: Titian, Venus Rising from the Sea (‘Venus Anadyomene’) (c. 1520)

One of the most beautiful pieces of artwork in the exhibition is Titian’s Venus. A private moment when she is born from the sea. It is a serene and quiet painting capturing a “candid” moment, wringing water from her hair. A small scallop shell to the left is the only tribute to the more famous Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. It is an exemplary example of the beautiful Renaissance woman form.

Titian, Venus Rising from the Sea (‘Venus Anadyomene’) (c. 1520)

The Bad: Dieric Bouts, The Way to Paradise, The Fall of the Damned, 1468 – 1469

It goes without saying that Renaissance art transformed religious art during the 15th to 16th-century. From the depiction of Adam & Eve, Heaven & Hell through to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, nudity was used as a method to persuade devotion. Bouts’ panels made up a triptych devoted to the Last Judgement. The Way to Paradise, the individuals are beautifully and discretely covered up in white cloth. On the other hand, The Fall of the Damned, individuals are seen tumbling and tortured whilst entirely naked. The shame for the naked body, according to the curators, can be traced to the Fall of Man, when God forbade Adam & Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. The Fall of the Damned will convince anyone not to be bad.

The Ugly: Hans Baldung Grien, Aristotle and Phyllis, 1513

This woodcut created by Hans Baldung Grien is shocking and cringe-worthy. It is not something I would have expected from this period of history as it is easy to remember the beauty of the Renaissance period and associate it with all things ethereal and graceful. Yet it is easy to forget that all humans have an ugly side. The tale of this painting is about the great teacher Aristotle warning his student, Alexander the Great, to stop having intimate affairs with his wife, Phyllis, but instead to concentrate on his studies. Understandably Phyllis was upset when her own husband shunned her sexual advances. To make a point and exact revenge, Phyllis seduces the old philosopher and humiliates him by riding him like a horse while Alexander hid and watched. Weird – is all I can say.

https://images.app.goo.gl/7ncLixFbHFGmgJUm7
Hans Baldung Grien, Aristotle and Phyllis, 1513

Other must-see pieces

  • Leonardo da Vinci, The Anatomy of the Shoulder and Neck (recto), 1510-11. No Renaissance exhibition can exclude the master of Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci. This understated piece of art is as if ripped from his personal notepad, but it showcases his amazing eye for detail and his extraordinary mirrored handwriting. Displayed in the middle of the exhibition, it is easy to walk past, but this double-sided drawing is worth spending a few minutes to admire.
  • Pisanello, Luxuria, 1426. This small and understated pen and brown ink painting is of a reclining female. She is sensual and powerful with self-confidence. It is in contrast to the usual demure female form in Renaissance Art. What a wonderful piece.

I would love to hear what you think of the pieces I have reviewed here, do you have a favourite? Have you been to the exhibition, I would love to hear what you thought about it as well!

With Sweet & Sour Love,

Pineapple Chicken x

Art: Edvard Munch – Love and Angst

One of the largest show of Edvard Munch’s prints and woodcuts in the UK for 45 years is now being held at the British Museum until 21 July 2019. For those who may not be familiar with the artist, you would certainly recognise the “art’s most haunting and iconic face”. A piece of artwork that is so renowned that it has become an emoji!

Despite being considered as one of the founding fathers of Expressionism, very little is known about him. The exhibition aims to shed light on the Norwegian painter by exploring the political history of pre-war era Europe, particularly Oslo, Berlin and Paris where Munch travelled and found new influences. As you wander through the exhibition, it delves into Munch’s unconventional Bohemian lifestyle and beliefs which moulded his art and innovative printmaking techniques.  

Expressionism

Expressionism focuses on emotional experience above all else, particularly the isolation and anxiety of modern existence through highly intense and non-naturalistic brushwork. Expressionism is generally applied to the art of the twentieth century where it is said to have started with Vincent Van Gogh but included others such as Edvard Munch, James Ensor and later, Egon Schiele.  

Expressionists are in contrast to the Impressionists, where the goal was not to reproduce the impression suggested by the surrounding world but to strongly impose the artist’s own sensibility to the world’s representation. Expressionists explored the psyche; the focus was on dramatic and emotion-laden themes, particular qualities of fear, horror and the grotesque.

During the pre-war era, Expressionists reacted to the increasingly industrialised lives and sense of isolation. The artists developed a powerful mode of social criticism through their artwork. This included representations of modern cities through alienated individuals, including prostitutes (think Egon Schiele) who were used to comment on capitalism’s role in the emotional distancing of individuals within cities

The art movement rejected the dominant styles and subject matter of German visual culture at the turn of the 20th century, instead, found early inspiration in the flat patterning and bold forms of The New Art movement. Expressionists looked for inspiration beyond European art and culture to native folk traditions and tribal art; such as African and Oceanic art; as it was then considered to be primitive and unevolved.

The movement flourished from 1905 to 1920, particularly in Germany and Austria. However, with the rise of Nazism in Germany, this led to the end of the Expressionist movement, with most of the artwork removed from museums and confiscated from private collections.

Edvard Munch (1863 – 1944)

Edvard Munch was a prolific yet perpetually troubled artist preoccupied with matters of human mortality such as chronic illness, sexual liberation, and religious aspiration

Born in 1863 in the village of Ådalsbruk in Løten, Norway. Munch grew up with an older sister and three younger siblings. The family moved to Oslo in 1864 and became the start of his personal struggles and anguish. Munch became familiar with death. He lost his mother to tuberculosis before he turned 13. He lost his much-loved sister nine years later to the same disease. His younger sister was diagnosed with mental illness at an early age and his younger brother passed away shortly after his marriage. 

He, himself, also suffered from a poor immune system and was kept out of school for months on end. To pass the time, Munch took up drawing and painting. His father would often read ghost stories of Edgar Allan Poe, which instilled in the young Munch a general sense of anxiety about death (unsurprisingly) and how it constantly advanced on him.

There was a constant conflict with his father who Munch considered as “temperamentally nervous and obsessively religious”. Munch enrolled in a technical college in 1879 but frequent illnesses interrupted his studies and in the following year, Munch dropped out to pursue painting. This cause further friction with his father who deemed art as an “unholy trade”. However, this did not stop the budding artist from enrolling at the Royal School of Art and Design of Kristiania in 1881; where he started to seek an alternative bohemian lifestyle. 

During this time, Munch discovered the writings of the anarchist philosopher, Hans Jæger, head of a group called the “Kristiania-Boheme”. Jæger advocated for sexual freedom and individualism. They formed a close friendship and it was Jæger who encouraged Munch to draw from personal experience in his work. This led to the painting of The Sick Child (1885 – 1886) which served as a memorial to his favourite sister.

https://www.edvardmunch.org/the-sick-child.jsp
The Sick Child, 1885

In 1889, Munch travelled to Paris to study at the studio of Leon Bonnat and continued to explore the themes of death and personal loss.  Munch’s father passed away that year, and Night in St,.Cloud (1890) served as a memorial. It was after this period, where the Frieze series and related works were the artists most popular and artistically significant period which is the period that the exhibition focuses on.  This was the period, where his signature paintings The Scream (1893), Love and Pain (1893-94), Ashes (1894), Madonna (1894-95), and Puberty (1895) were all created.

https://www.edvardmunch.org/madonna.jsp
Madonna, 1894

Exhibition

Munch’s art is not for the faint-hearted as it explores the fear, gloom and angst of his personal Expressionist art. When entering the exhibition, the first painting is a sombre self-portrait; jet black apart from the face and a skeleton arm placed casually on the bottom of the painting. Considering the pains of his past, death is at the forefront of Munch’s art. It is not hidden or subtle but a print version of The Sick Child, The Dead Mother and a print from woodcuts of The Death in the Sick Room is an emotive depiction of loss, almost too painful to look.

The exhibition focuses on his lithographs, woodcuts, drypoint prints and etchings, Munch’s skills seems unrivalled; by using different mediums and methods his prints are just as vivid and haunting as his paintings. His bohemian lifestyle also meant that Munch explored the representation of women’s bodies. The lithograph titled Madonna is of a beautiful woman but contrasted with a curled foetus in the corner of the painting makes it sinister and dangerous.

https://www.artsy.net/artwork/edvard-munch-madonna-3
Madonna, 1895/1902

Munch seemed to have a difficult relationship with women, he was afraid of marriage and his love life was confusing. He was only engaged once to Tulla Larsen but that relationship ended with a gunshot wound to the finger, of which an x-ray is displayed in the exhibition. Some of his most impressive were his works are from the Frieze of Life series where he depicted a love affair through the kiss, love, pain, jealousy, betrayal and despair. The inspiration for his work has been suggested to be his tumultuous relationship with women and the shock and fear associated with the power and passion of women. 

Munch was a prolific artist where he produced more than 1,000 paintings, 4,000 drawings and nearly 15,400 prints throughout this career. Therefore, it is no surprise that he has influenced many artists after him. German Expressionists painters such as Kirchner, Kandinsky, and Beckmann also expressed their individual psychology through intense colour and semi-abstraction. Munch’s influence even extends to Francis Bacon whose portraits reflect the sitter’s psychological turmoil as is manifested in skewed facial and bodily features. 

It is hard to shake off the melancholy of Munch’s work when leaving the exhibition, yet the British Museum has managed to shed light into the life of the artist that painted one of the most famous paintings in our Modern History. Recommend – 3.5 out of 5 Pineapples.

With Sweet & Sour Love,

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For other reviews of the exhibitions, please see the below links: