Abstract Art is Out Depicting the Human Figure is Back
Updated: Sep 12
Summer 2018. I have recently come back from a trip to Edinburgh and London and it struck me how all the exhibitions I saw dealt with the same subject: humanity. So I thought I would share with you in this post how the artists featured in these shows see us. Featured here is the poster for the All Too Human exhibition at Tate Britain.
Exhibition: Rembrandt & Britain National Galleries of Scotland Edinburgh. My itinerary started with Rembrandt. Photo by Sherry Fyman.
An Old Woman Reading by Rembrandt 1655. Notice how the head covering serves to isolate her from the external world and the grip of her hands emphasizes her concentration. The light that brings into focus her face seems to emanate from the book itself. She might be old but there is still so much for her to discover and learn.
A Woman Bathing in a Stream by Rembrandt 1654 At first glance this is an idyllic painting but the background is quite ominous with its dark and red tones. Could this be just a respite from a hard and uncertain life?
Piaceri Sconosciuti (Unknown Pleasures) by Glenn Brown 2016 British artist Glenn Brown starts with an old master’s painting (in this case a Rembrandt) and then turns it into his own painting.
Walking through the National Galleries of Modern Art in Edinburgh, I came across Aleppo by British artist Jenny Seville. The composition has been based on the Pietà by Michelangelo to convey a monument to a contemporary conflict of immense human suffering and devastation. Done in pastel and charcoal on canvas. 2017/2018
Next stop on the itinerary. Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up at the V&A, London. Depicted here one of the posters for the show.
Frida Kahlo Self-Portrait 1943 Kahlo endured a life of constant pain, wearing corsets and leg braces but despite that, she was able to create an elegant, unique, iconic figure. A lesson in the endurance of the human spirit and dignity.
Next stop on the itinerary: The Tate Britain. Exhibition: All Too Human. Photo by Sherry Fyman.
Study after Velazquez by Francis Bacon 1950 Bacon was obsessed by the image of Pope Innocent X as portrayed by Velazquez. He did many works based on this image. The Pope is always portrayed alone and screaming. In this 1950 version, he has lost his clerical robe and wears a suit. Bacon saw him as a powerful and corrupted man.
Woman of Venice IX by Alberto Giacometti. 1956 Giacometti’s tall, slender figures represent in the artist’s eye the human seen from a distance. He explained that when he made large figures, they seemed ‘false’. It was only when he portrayed them as ‘long and slender’ that they seemed true to his vision of humanity. Photo by Sherry Fyman.
Sleeping by the Lion Carpet by Lucian Freud. 1996 Most artists work in the seclusion of their studios but what is different about Lucian Freud is that everything found in his studio became an integral part of his paintings.
1974-1977 From the exhibition label: This is Francis Bacon’s last triptych addressing the loss of his former lover George Dyer, who took his own life in 1971.
The Company of Women by Paula Rego. If women had been portrayed in these poses, we would have thought nothing of it but replace the women with men and you have to acknowledge that men would never be portrayed this way.
The Family by Portuguese artist Paula Rego. Is the picture clearer if we replace the woman with a man?
Reverse by Jenny Seville 2002-3 Saville does not work from live models. She works from photographs. She collects images of burns and bruises from medical textbooks. Depicted here is a large close-up self-portrait.
Next and last stop on itinerary. Picasso 1932 at Tate Modern, London. Photo by Sherry Fyman.
The rescue by Pablo Picasso 1932 From the exhibition label: Toward the end of the year, Picasso turned to a new and darker subject matter, the threat of drowning and the possibility of rescue.
I will never make art with the preconceived idea of serving the interests of the political, religious or military art of a country. Pablo Picasso
The Rescue by Pablo Picasso 1933. Europe was in shambles. Hitler and Mussolini were solidifying their bases. Spain was engaging in a civil war. Soon there would be another war. The agony of the mother and child in this painting, the gray sky, the isolation of the figures . . . I can’t stop crying.
Picasso 1932 exhibition ends with this quote by Michel Leiris: “Everything we love is about to die, and that is why everything we love must be summed up, with all the high emotion of farewell, in something so beautiful we shall never forget it. “ Shown here The Sculptor by Pablo Picasso.
This painting of mine entitled "With Love" lives in London in a private collection. I went to visit my painting a few years back and that's how I discovered London.