The first painting on my “Grotesque Realism” page is titled, “To leave the figure or disfigure it.” This is a line from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. The king Theseus tells the defiant daughter Hermia:
“To you your father should be as a God
One that compos’d your beauties, yea and one
To whom you are but as a form in wax
By him imprinted, and within his power
To leave the figure or disfigure it.”
Are men looking at women any differently now? Maybe this painting holds that question in its figuration. But the phrase has a double meaning for me as a contemporary painter. Just over 100 years ago Matisse and Picasso, rebelling against lifeless conventions of beauty in art, set out to disfigure the figure, seeking to give it new life. Matisse’s “Blue Nude,” and Picasso’s “Demoiselles d’Avignon” are examples. But this avant-garde gesture became it’s own lifeless convention as modern art ruled out figurative beauty. Art schools scrapped figure drawing and many artists never learned to draw at all. For me, the only way to carry on was to rebel again, and refigure the figure. I’m trying to show that painting the figure in all its movements and moods and relations can be as avant-garde now as cubism was a century ago. “To leave the figure or disfigure it” is a choice that keeps painting alive. And it’s a way of asking who are we now?
Note: The technology available on this site does not allow for direct comments, but you can send me comments by email. I may not be able to respond personally (I may be busy painting) but I will post comments here when they provoke further thought and conversation.