Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Aphrodite At The Waterhole

Many years ago, as a distraction on a wet afternoon, I thought a visit to the local Art Gallery with T. might be a good idea. T. was in a push-chair and I think that it would be safe to say that, at the age of two, he was not particularly interested in the finer aspects of portraiture undertaken by Royal Academicians of the late 18th century.  Imagine my surprise then, as we turned a corner in the gallery and I propelled T. into view of a vast oil painting of luxuriantly endowed reclining nude.  “Whaaahay!” T. exclaimed loudly with a manic grin, squirming delightedly in his pushchair and waving his tiny grasping hands in the air.  The twelve-foot long splayed and voluptuous female torso obviously had a profound effect on him.

T. is now 20 years old and has an even greater opportunity to demonstrate excitement at work by the same artist, although I hope, in my heart of hearts, that he doesn’t (or, if he does, that I won’t be there with him). The art gallery, here in York, has recently mounted an impressive exhibition dedicated to the work of that same local artist, a painter who went on to national acclaim, William Etty.

Aphrodite At The Waterhole?
There is certainly a high incidence of gratuitous nudity in Etty’s work, and the exhibition takes an absorbing look at how such representation was accepted back in less relaxed times.  Providing there was a moral behind the image, it would be generally be acceptable.  The Bible, and the better known Greek tragedies came out well, but the imagery in one or two lesser-known fables was lambasted for its prurience, even if the technique used in its execution was perfectly adequate.  Yet strangely, this technique, although totally based on observation, does go awry on occasions.  Proportionally, some of Etty's figures are dubious, with giant thighs, extruded arms, small heads, rheumy eyes and strangely located ears.  But it’s a worthwhile exhibition, and a well-curated one. 

One particularly nice touch, garnering the involvement of visitors of all ages and abilities, is the positioning of this well-lit statue (not by Etty) for them to draw, much along the lines that he and other RA students would have done in years gone by.  I’m afraid I don’t recall the name of the work (although one might consider as a suitable appellation “Aphrodite At The Waterhole”, whom Tony Hancock set out to immortalise from a giant block of stone in ‘The Rebel’ - with Irene Handl as his model), but it is an attractive classical representation offering to the onlooker a combination of life drawing and still life opportunities.

Your Author's Rendition
It is encircled by benches, on which sketchbooks and pencils have been provided, and the statue has now been drawn many times from throughout 360º by visitors to the gallery.  The variety in drawing is impressive, from naïve scrawls and quick graphic doodles to observant and skilful tonal drawing.  I sent a suggestion to the Art Gallery that they use these images to make a lapsed-time animated sequence, travelling around the statue.  Whether they will or not, I’ll let you know.

In the meanwhile, here’s the statue, plus my own effort at recording it for posterity.  A bit presumptuous of me really because, if you think about it, whoever created the statue created it to do precisely that in the first instance. 

And even then, it was probably a copy.

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