Tuesday, 7 December 2010
The above painting is called 'The Harlots' and is a portrait of two fabulous burlesque performers from New York. Molly Crabapple, at the front, is a talented illustrator and the founder of Dr Sketchy's Anti-Art School, (an art class meets burlesque in a bar), where I have gained much of the incredible inspiration for my paintings over the past three years. She modelled two years ago at Dr Sketchy's Glasgow for their first birthday party and brought along the glamourous and risque 'Kitten on the Keys' to perform and model for our delight. Kitten is an alternative musician and her ditties had us falling of our chairs with bawdy laughter.
When I looked back at the drawings and photos from the original session, I was for some reason reminded of Manet's controversial painting Olympia (shown below). I loved the contrast of Molly being pale and nearly nude with Kitten's tanned skin and vibrant corsetted outfit. I had thought of making Molly her slave, as her heavy necklace is reminsicent of a collar, but I wanted each person to be equal.
Kitten's head is thrown back with passion while my Olympia looks away from the viewer in an almost distainful manner. I had originally painted Molly looking right back at us from the painting, like Manet's Olympia, but with the strong lighting it looked too hard. I preferred her sideway glance, as if dismissing us, or even looking a little bored with our eager attentions.The flowers in the background represent the bouquet of flowers from their admirers as well as representing the promise of passions yet to be unleashed.
Manet's painting caused quite a stir in 19th Century France and even though nudes were often seen in galleries, Manet's nude was not acceptable. But why? Basically his painting was shunned by the establishment because the nude in question was obviously a courtesan, shown by the fact she was wearing slippers and a ribbon round her neck. The black lady is her servant bringing flowers from one of her admirers or clients. On top of all this suggestion, the woman has the audacity to stare back at us, as we stare at her laid bare.
In the same way, over a century later, I find my work shunned by certain galleries and art establishments for similar reasons. I find that I can happily hang a completely nude woman (preferrably looking away from the viewer) in any gallery, but add a pair of stockings, and all hell breaks loose. Burlesque celebrates women of all shapes and sizes, but it can also be political and is of course, in most cases, sexual. My nudes cause embarrasment because my models are strong women who are comfortable both in and out of their costumes. They are women having fun in a thong and pasties. They enjoy showing themselves off and are not afraid to challenge the viewer eye to eye.
See Molly's illustration at http://www.mollycrabapple.com
Hear Kitten at http://www.suzanneramsey.net/
Find out about Dr Sketchy's Anti Art School at http://www.drsketchy.com/