Piece of the Week: Gypsy Splendor

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Artist: Dame Laura Knight
Date: 1939  (Impressionism)
Title: Gypsy Splendor
Media: Oil on Canvas 

The way a female artist portrays another woman is considerably different to a male’s, I find. Here the sitter, Lilo Smith (a close friend of Knight’s and her favourite sitter is pictured as she is in her home in Iver: the sheet implying she is comfortable and serene yet on display through her ostentatious ostrich plume hat.

Dame Laura Knight was the second ever woman to become a full member of the royal Academy. She was a portrait painter for all demographics; circus folk, performers, black people and those of the upper/middle classes. She insisted on taking her work in her own direction and her work as a result of this experienced a multitude of styles. 

The use of colour works particularly well in this piece: the stripes on the waggon door begin to frame in on the dark-green scarf and Lilo’s face. Her portrayal in pastel colours is juxtaposed well with the brightness, maintaining a balance between her contemplative personality and vivid lifestyle. 

 For more: Go to the Laura Knight exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery (ends 13th October) 

Piece of the Week: The Raft of the Medusa

Artist: Théodore Géricault (1791-1824)
Date: 1818-19  (Romantic)
Title: The Raft of the Medusa

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I find it hard to believe that this hyper-tragedy was inspired on a real-life incident during Gericault’s lifetime: The sinking of the Medusa – a french royal Navy frigate- in 1816. When the ship sunk near the coast of Senegal, over 150 of it’s passengers were forced to build a raft which saved only 10 lives. 

This piece exploits the fragility of the human condition, and is particularly effective in this Romantic style. We are able to experience the sublime of the cruel sea and face the truth: there are some things which even man cannot conquer.

The use of chiaroscuro (contrasts of light and shadow) bring our attention to the piles of bodies lapped against one another at varying heights. To me, this symbolises their hope. The higher up diagonally you get to the top left, the more you realise that these men  are  refusing to accept death, waving in agitation at a miniscule ship in the distance. Two men lie distracted with the corpses at the foot of the raft, lost in mourning or accepting their harsh fate. To the left, a wave is building strength, ready to engulf them all. 

When it was first exhibited in 1819, it received a very mixed response, with the followers of classicism calling it “a pile of corpses”. Inevitably though, that is the painting’s strength, to remind us of our short  time alive and our humility with nature. 

For more: http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/raft-medusa

 

The quick history of the Vietnamese Ao Dai

Last week I took part in the Young Graduates for Museums and Galleries’ culture day. We had to wear our cultural dress.

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The traditional Vietnamese costume is the áo dài (which literally translates as ”long dress”) which I am pictured in below with my friend Anh-Duong:

Nowadays, the ao dai (pronounced ow yai) is worn by Vietnamese women as both an everyday garment, school uniform and party outfit!

It is a collared floor-length dress with a slit up to the waist. But don’t worry! It’s worn with waist-length trousers.

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Piece of the Week: Stack

A lot of people  when looking at this sculpture will think it’s a load of old rubbish.
But that is actually the point.

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Artist: Tony Cragg
Date: 1975  (Contemporary)
Title: Stack

This piece is from a series of ‘Stacks‘ made by Cragg between 1975-85 (each time it is moved it is recreated). They are parodies of the rock formation of the earth, made from discarded items. Cragg is trying to resurface the hidden rubbish which we are so keen to forget.

To me, nothing in this piece is natural. Even though wood is a strong feature, it is still processed into the planks or cuts which stand before us. The shape of the piece itself is perfectly cubic; a phenomenon which occurs rarely in nature. The objects themselves have been tampered with in one form or another to make them what they are. Even to the point of being transformed  into Stack there exists a human catalyst.

No two sides are the same: they are exposed yet hidden, perhaps to represent the unknown consequences if we continue to exploit our world in this way. The title itself echoes this, with the implication of a ‘stack’ of pressure on an unstable base. Whether this pressure is a societal strain through money, rubbish, loss of nature or something else… it’s up to you. You can view this for yourself in TATE Britain, London.

Other pieces by Cragg have similar notions, including Combination of Found Beach Objects.

For more: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/cragg-stack-t07428/text-summary