Last time we rambled on about the history of depicting the human form, in art. This time, we want to show you how the human form is dealt with in some contemporary art. Of course, Art Pistol is home to the best contemporary art (we’re not bias, promise!) – so we’re going to start by showing you three of our human-focussed gallery faves.
Patrick Palmer believes that painting a human form with “too much realism” is predictable and conventional. This speaks to the idea that – whilst realistic depiction of the human form has its place – it does not always access the intimate, uncontrived essence of a person: the personality, the emotions and all the other things that we simply can’t see. So, whilst Palmer is extremely detailed – even photographic – in his rendering of the human form, his work has an abstracted twist, that is beautifully personal, and emotional. For example, in his work Beauty, the female figure is vividly realistic – with even the minute detail of fly-away hair; and the flecks of light on her shoulder, visible. Yet – this intricacy fades through her lower torso and legs – opening up into an abstract mass of gold paint. Whilst, inevitably, this effect will mean different things to each of us viewing it – it evokes a sense of intimacy or memory: abstract concepts that vivid realism simply can’t do justice to.
The work’s rich colour – which contrasts so strikingly with the dramatic, monochrome form of the female – makes this piece so beautiful, and ethereal – that it powerfully lives up to its name. And at the same time, the intimacy of her pose, and, of course, her nude form, makes her ‘beauty’ very soft, and personal.
Our favourite game to play with our visitors at the moment, is ‘can you spot the humans in Lily Macrae’s Marmalade Skies diptych’ (not a very catchy name, we know). But we promise you, they’re there! This stormy, abstract pair of oil paintings are about as far from photographically-realistic, as you can get – with their bursting forms, and bold colours. And yet, like with Palmers’ work, this causes them to be even more perfect in their rendering of humanity. Other than the glimpse of a shin, or the swipe of an arm, we are met with forms that replace realism with emotion and movement, in their tempestuous abstraction. In Macrae’s words: this is a painting where she has attempted to “capture a moment, which is then lost again and again; a figure rising from bed, or reclined across another.” So, a intimate, everyday moment of humanity, is transformed into these two, emotionally-charged squares.
Macrae has also said that this diptych was inspired, to some extent, by the Beatles song ‘Lucy in the sky with Diamonds’ (hence the ‘marmalade skies’ reference). This is a particularly wonderful connection, because the song itself morphs from its sunny and upbeat melody, through to treacle-slow sections – that somehow seem to mirror the morphic dynamism of Macrae’s brush work. And, we think, Lennon and McCartney’s idea of ‘kaleidoscope eyes’ perfectly articulates how it feels to view the human form, through the work of Lily Macrae.
“But hush for I have lost the theme” is a line that comes from W.B. Yeats’ 1938 poem The Man and The Echo. In his poem – based in a world of his imagination – Yeats is locked in dialogue about life and death, with his own echo (as you do!). His echo is telling him to simply “lay down and die” and give up on life altogether, and taunts him by manipulating the meaning of his own words. Whilst, at first, Yeats is haunted by the words of his echo, he eventually seems to come to the conclusion that life and death are so vastly complicated, that one should, rather than “lay down and die” – “rejoice” and live in each moment. When he asserts that he has “lost the theme”, that may be understood as a line that expresses how overwhelming all the concepts, that he is grappling with, are. So much so, that he has lost his “theme” or coherence of thought, by thinking them through too much.
So, if we tie the visual imagery of the Carlingford painting, to the Yeats allusion of its title, then maybe the human form, that occupies the right side of the image, isn’t a real human being copied from life, by Carlingford. Maybe, this painting represents a realm of the imagination, where the anthropomorphic, ship-like form on the left embodies the overwhelming, abstract concepts that Yeats’ echo introduces; whilst the human form on the right – crowned by soft colours of egg-shell blue and cream – represents the mind, looking peacefully away; saying “hush” to the vast “themes” of life and death. However we interpret this piece, it exemplifies that the human does not need to be meticulously drawn from life, to be charged with meaning, and, of course, to look breathtaking.
So, in this blog post we wanted to investigate a few of the different ways in which the human form can be approached by artists; and how we go about unpicking these different methods of representation. It’s a cheesy statement, but – humanity is beautiful, vibrant and complex. And as a result we all express our experiences of each other in different ways. Likewise, we are all drawn to very different modes of representation; often without knowing why. That is why, at Art Pistol, we love to show off so many different styles. Visiting an art gallery is about finding what you love, and what resonates with you personally. Long gone are the days where art was about fancy taste, and cultural etiquette. On that note! Thank you for reading – and we hope you’ve enjoyed finding out a little bit more about our fabulous artists.