Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Girls Don't Like To Wear Clothes

Sometimes I really can't believe I not only went to school for and paid for but actually got a degree in what is basically art appreciation. Whatever will become of me? One of the things they teach you to do in Art History is draw comparisons, which happens to be one of my favorite things to do anyway. Here are three painters I really like that I link together in my head.
Paula Rego is a contemporary Portuguese painter/printmaker whose images often deal with childhood, femininity and personal or collective mythologies:

"The Policeman's Daughter," 1987
In the late 1980’s Paula Rego made a series of painting to explore close family relationships. All the relationships seem somewhat dysfunctional, particularly those between the fathers and the daughters. The Policeman’s Daughter is angry, her hand rammed into her father’s boot as she cleans it, a drawing for the painting shows its genesis in a relationship that is a little more innocent – a younger girl, cradling the boot as she cleans it, a toy castle symbolising security at her feet. In the painting, the castle has become a mistrustful cat, and the pose of the girl, taken from a sexually-explicit Robert Mapplethorpe photograph, anything but innocent.
The Maids, 1897
The story at the heart of the painting came to Paula Rego ready-made in the form of Jean Genet's play The Maids (1947), itself based on the real-life case of the Papin sisters, Christine and Lea, who worked as maids for a rich Parisian family. One day, frightened for no apparent reason other than that of a power cut which inconvenienced and possibly frightened the sisters, they brutally murdered the mother and daughter of the family while the man of the house was out at work. In working with the story, Paula Rego seems to have focused on the unnatural closeness of the sisters, both to each other and the mother and daughter they murder. Ambiguity and menacing psychosis reverberate within the picture, much of it carried in the objects with which the room is claustrophobically furnished. And isn't there something uncertain about the sexuality of the seated figure?
(Note: the film version of The Maids is like the sweetest movie ever)

The Family, 1988
In The Family the absent father and husband returns to the picture plane, only to be manhandled by his daughter and his wife. As usual, the narrative clues are ambiguous, and the story could have several endings. Are the women helping the man or hurting him? Who is the little girl at the window? Do the clues perhaps lie in the Portuguese retablo featuring St. Joan, and St George slaying the dragon? Or in the fable of the stork and the fox illustrated beneath? Is the man as doomed as the dragon, or will he in fact resurface like the fox, to eat the stork, once it has removed the bone lodged in his throat?

These last three paintings are from that series she did on families. Very Freudian, very Balthus:

Another obvious comparison is contemporary Leipzig-based artist Christoph Ruckhäberle, whose work I first saw at the lovely Frye Museum in Seattle. Tight, congested interiors, restless youths, confusing and ambiguous displays of nudity and sexuality and a coded gaze system that reveals nothing (not to mention the upskirt shots):

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