Monday, June 15, 2009

Ivor Hele

Ivor Hele is an Australian War illustrator and artist.
Ivor Hele was born on June 13, 1912 in Adelaide, Australia. At the age of 15, after having shown considerable talent in art classes, Ivor Hele left Australia to travel to Paris via Italy and resume his artistic training among European ateliers. In Europe he studied casts, anatomy, the figure in life classes, learning to draw and paint form and light. He returned several years later, suitcase crammed with art books and drawings, having considerably improved his art practice. Upon returning to Adelaide, he set up a studio and began creating artworks for exhibitions and art prizes. He was successful at a young age, winning several art shows and establishing himself. After several exhibitions he chose not to exhibit commercially again, deciding to sell his work solely to commissioners and collectors.

Hele enlisted in the armed forces in June 1940 and left for North Africa in Nov, in 1941 he was appointed official war artist. Hele spent a year at the frontlines in the North African campaign from 1941-42 and 5 months in the Korean War and his grimly realistic paintings are among the most impressive of any done during those conflicts.
What can be said of the emotional impact witnessing, and recording a brutal war had on the artist? The conditions at war were tremendous, the temperate conditions of the desert and jungle and the struggle against an enemy. The mountainous brutal deaths of soldiers are seen in his paintings, among scenes of men around mortar and portraits of commanders. He spent the next year with troops from the 6th Australian Division AIF in North Africa and returned to his studio in South Australia in 1942 to complete a series of paintings of their actions then to New Guinea.
The war artist has had to contend not only with enemy action but also with adverse natural conditions. In the Middle East he had to endure extremes of heat and cold, and sandstorms. In New Guinea he has encountered completely different conditions - tropical storms, mud and swamps and rain forests. The vast open spaces of the North African desert have been replaced by tracks through dense jungle and kunai grass. In the Middle East the artist did at least enjoy the advantage of transport. In New Guinea he has been forced to accompany the troops usually on foot, carrying not only the same equipment, clothing, arms and operational rations as the fighting troops but also his sketching outfit in addition. Like the fighting troops he has to ward off malaria, scrub-typhus, tinea, tropical sores, and dermatitis; to sleep out not for one night but for many in rain and mud and to live for days at a time in wet clothes. Fresh food is often scarce. These conditions, I suggest, must be allowed for when the work of the artists is judged. The Army, which knows the conditions with which they have to contend, has a profound admiration for what they had done and are doing.”
' From Exhibition of New Guinea Pictures by Ivor Hele'

After enduring emotional ordeals during the war, and dealing with a divorce and re marriage, plus being a public figure because of his Archibald success, Ivor Hele became a recluse. Upon returning to Australia from his war expeditions, he worked as a portrait painter, painting notable politicians and dignitaries, who traveled to his beach cottage to sit for him. He also produced a substantial amount of private work of his wife, who modeled for him daily.

Ivor Hele is an artist of form, interested in the curves of the body and the tones of multilayered war scenes, figures receding in depth in dusty deserts. Ivor Hele created a significant body of work, he was prolific overseas and prolific upon returning. He worked quickly with sketching materials, creating drawings with pen and ink, charcoal, pencil and conte.

Ivor Hele’s art is a triumph of the human spirit over appalling conditions, an artist who showed bravery and produced art in appalling conditions. It is a testament to the power of the artist, that a painting can reproduce the horrors and emotions of a war, and create challenging work against adversity. Ivor Hele artworks remain to document a war better that no written record could ever accomplish a visual reminder of bravery and loss.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Jenny Saville

Jenny Saville is a contemporary British figure painter born in 1970.

Jenny Saville paints figurative paintings of large, fleshy, obese women with a tremendous physicality about them. Saville is not a painter of conventional beauty, although her painting approach is beautiful, lush tones and thick fleshy forms, she chooses a confrontational subject choice (rather than simply observational) for her paintings. Saville is most often compared to contemporary British painter Lucian Freud and Peter Paul Rubens (work seen in previous posts) in her portrayal of flesh as art.
Huge figures, painted large in scale confront our notions of beauty in an age saturated by notions of skinniness and runway models, femininity and idealized images of the female figure.

Saville traveled to NY in the mid 1990’s spending hours in the workplace of Dr. Barry Martin Weintraub, a plastic surgeon based in the city. There she took photographs of patients receiving cosmetic surgeries and liposuctions, gaining an understanding of the anatomy of the human body and the manipulations possible by surgery. This physical understanding led to a psychological awareness of the factors behind the alterations present in patients, and the market for medical beautification.
Saville is interested in gender in art. Her artworks are exclusively of women, transsexuals and transgender people often in confronting, violent positions. There is also a certain
tenderness present in some works, a hidden look of vulnerability as seen in an image like

Saville fulfills what it means to be a figure painter in the twenty first century. With a certain amount of abstraction and realism, her works are both modern and traditional. She pushes paint around in passages of intensity and areas of quiet, moving the eye around the flesh. She often adds several figures in one picture, twisting, stretching in different

Saville describes her painting approach in her work passage… “I was looking for a kind of contemporary architecture of the body. I wanted to paint a visual passage through gender – a sort of gender landscape. To scale from the penis, across a stomach to the breasts, and finally the head. I tried to make the lips and eyes be very seductive and use directional mark-making to move your eye around the flesh.”
Saville describes the scale of her paintings
“I like that sense of awe. I'm small, so to make something huge just fills me up. I love that ability to make something, to make marks across the surface and have the physicality of it take over my body. I like art that's not really intellectual, something that has to do with sensation.”

Passage 2004 336 x 290 cm
, Saville writes that she “was interested in the malls, where you saw lots of big women. Big white flesh in shorts and T-shirts. It was good to see because they had the physicality that I was interested in.”
Born in 1970, she came of age in the 1980s: "Everyone was obsessed with the body - it was all about dieting, gym, the body beautiful. Pornography, Aids were the big debates." She was influenced by feminism. "As a child I'd look through art books and there were no women artists. Of course, you start to ask why not." And: "Could I make a painting of a nude in my own voice? It's such a male-laden art, so historically weighted. The way women were depicted didn't feel like mine, too cute. I wasn't interested in admired or idealised beauty."

As one writer points out “Her exaggerated nudes point up, with an agonizing frankness, the disparity between the way women are perceived and the way that they feel about their bodies”. Saville uses the scale of her canvases to achieve the scope of her ideas. Her ginormous figures tumble across the canvas and into the viewer's physical space, hyper large and hyper real with an intense physicality.
“I have moved from the anatomy of the body to the anatomy of paint," she says. "That is how I see it. Spaces within the body of the paint are what interest me now."

Her images offer a queasy experience of fragmented bodies, uncomfortable and uneasy, her paint becoming flesh and her images sparking doubts about our own bodies.

What relevance does jenny Saville’s work have to the 21st century? Her painting technique is rooted in strong traditional tonal realism with servings of abstraction in areas of the figure. Her subject matter doesn’t shy away from confrontation, from shocking the viewer by its inherent size and scale, flesh painted with gusto. Saville’s rightful fame is rooted not just in her talent with a brush, but the relevance of the body in our current culture. A culture that obsesses with the body image and beauty, Saville work is a reflection on the neurotic nagging voice of doubt and unease within our bodies and minds.