Dirty Old Men 2

An addendum to my last post.

Take a look at this; (I’ve pixelated the image because WordPress forbids images of genitalia; when it was posted on Facebook last year FB deleted it and there was no end of brouhaha; it’s very easy to find the unadulterated version):
L’Origine du Monde (Origin of the World) was painted by Gustave Courbet in 1866, oil on canvas, 55cm x 46cm, and currently hangs in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris:

Now, this is ART, right?
A very great painter, a leading exponent of Realism, which rejected, among other things, the idealising of the female form inherent in academic History Painting and the hypocrisy of erotica/porn masquerading as moral edification, creates something ‘honest’.
Technically, it’s brilliant. Look at that foreshortening! The brushwork.
It hangs in full public view in a ‘proper’ gallery.
The frame! Wow, that frame! Only Art deserves a frame like that.
And it’s got a portentous ‘mythic’ title!
Of course it’s ART!

Then ask why it was painted.
It was commissioned by an Ottoman diplomat for his – ahem – ‘private collection’; that is, the wealthy man’s version of a secret stash of jazz mags. It is an aid to masturbation. If you’re really rich, like Mr Playboy himself, Hugh Hefner, hell, you don’t need the images, you can surround yourself with the real thing.

But it’s by Courbet! It’s ART!

So, if a ‘split-beaver shot’ (I believe that’s the technical term) is beautifully rendered by someone famous, it’s no longer ‘pornography’, it no longer denigrates women? Somehow it’s more acceptable and less exploitative than a well-thumbed copy of Razzle?
Bullshit.

You may argue that the painting marks ‘progress’, in that it shows women as they ‘really are’. Actually, it was merely ‘racy’, more arousing to appetites jaded by anodyne representations of Diana with her tits out; pornography, to continue its appeal, must always go that ‘one step further’. (Wonder what Ruskin would have made of it, with his apocryphal horror of pubes?) You can then think about that ‘progress’ and ask yourself why,150 years on, women are more paranoid than ever about eradicating every stray hair that marks them out as equal, grown-up members of society, if not to conform, still, to a male-engendered ideal of how the female of the species should look.

The ‘male gaze’.
The look that continues to insist:
You, lady, are not Like Me; you exist only in relation to me and my desires; I don’t even need to see your face; I don’t care who you are, only what you are.
And so powerful is this gaze of mine, it’s got you looking at yourself in the exact same way.
Woman as c*nt.
Woman is c*nt.

This painting: Edifying? Transcendent? Art?
Dress it up (in androcentric discourse?), but I don’t think so.
How about you?

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22 July: Just discovered this ‘Electric Alarum’ anti-masturbation device for men. Seemed apposite. 😉
https://tarthead.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/electric-alarum.jpg

And just in case women think they’re blamelessly getting away scot free, an excellent post from M.K. Hajdin:
http://exiledstardust.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/how-to-be-a-confessional-artist/

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What a beast, what a man! Meet Mackie, artist

Looking at contemporary art is like panning for gold: once in a while, amidst the drift and dribble, you stumble fortuitously on the shiny stuff, on someone like a Katie Paterson or a George Shaw, say.
On someone like Mackie.

Romeo’s Return, oil on canvas, 153cm x 92cm

Mackie’s subect is “the very average man”, “the frailty and silliness of everything”. There is black humour aplenty: his world is peopled by what look like distinctly shady types but are in fact just men, caught in the act of simply being themselves, ‘blokes‘ ”: the innate slobbishness; the casual aggression; the tribalism; the testosterone-fuelled menace; the unconsidered lusty lip-curl of a lecher. But, as with all work of any worth, it cannot be reduced to simple cartoonish mockery; there is an empathy at play here, a fellow-feeling, an all too honest recognition (in himself?) of the ‘manly’ foibles and ‘frailty’ he so ruthlessly and starkly depicts.

Binge Drink, oil on linen, 100cm x 70cm

This empathy reveals itself formally.
With a background in illustration and design, it comes as no surprise that Mackie’s working process is painstaking, involving detailed preliminary sketching and 3D modelling before committing oil to canvas. His claim to classical Flemish influence is backed up by his realism, his measured palette, his meticulous attention to detail, his observation, his refusal to idealise or romanticise, his concern with the world as it ‘is’: he is a Bosch, or, perhaps more so, a Pieter Bruegel for our times.

Whose Round Is It? oil on canvas, 150cm x 90cm

All of which raises the work, as I said, above mere cartoon or caricature. What we are dealing with is not the stereotypical but the archetypal; a huge difference: moralising versus moral. (Easter Island heads, anyone?) Rather than putting on show a gallery of grotesques, Mackie is, perhaps, asking us to look within. And that includes you too, lady. You may not visually present, but you’re there by implication, in every single time you’ve looked at him and thought, “Bloody idiot!”. Men without women revert effortlessly to type.

A Convenient Streetlamp, oil on canvas, 153cm x 92cm

But what I really like about Mackie is that he loves art, he knows art. The references in his work are myriad, yet completely subsumed and assimilated, made totally his own: the Flemish, yes, but what about surrealists like de Chirico, film noir, Otto Dix (as a very percipient friend, Paul, suggested)? And, of course, with his spot-lighting, his ‘down and dirty’ naturalism, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio? I can’t and won’t speak for the artist, but this is what I see, and I love it.

Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, Giorgio de Chirico

A final word: Mackie may love art, but the modern art world is, maybe,  something else. His take on Champaigne’s Last Supper (1648) : Simon Cowell as Christ, and from left to right, Lucien Freud, Dinos Chapman, Richard Hamilton, Francis Bacon, David Hockey, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Jack Vettriano, Rolf Harris, Banksy, Grayson Perry, and Edouard Paolozzi: the Big Boys, the Money Men. A scathing diatribe against the ‘celebritisation’ of culture? Or just a world-weary acknowlegdement that this is simply how things are?

Who’s Judas: The Final 12, oil on canvas, 184cm x 122cm

Vettriano (gah!) appears to come in for some serious flak: see this subversion of (or perverse homage to?) Vettriano’s  Billy Boys, itself a ridiculously romanticised, glamourised, even sexualised take on tribal macho posturing:

Silly Boys, oil on canvas, 168cm x 127cm

The Billy Boys, Jack Vettriano

So there’s Mackie: a man with something to propose and the skill, knowledge and honesty to do so.
I hope you like him as much as I do: he doesn’t give pat answers, he asks questions,  and the ambiguities in his work allow us to take from them what we will: recognition, outraged censure, amusement, or, if not quite pity, at least a kind sympathy for these ‘blokes’ who, amidst the modern pressures of ‘political correctness’, fail so epically at being anything other than their ‘unreconstructed’ selves.
In today’s art scene that makes Mackie, it seems to me, a rare ‘beast’ indeed.

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Mackie is showing at Hayhill Gallery, 5a Cork Street, London W1S 3NY, until 28 April 2012.
Mackie’s website: http://www.mackieart.co.uk/

Women Know Your Place

“A man’s presence suggests what he is capable of doing to you or for you. By contrast, a woman’s presence . . . defines what can and cannot be done to her.” ~ John Berger, Ways of Seeing, 1972.

1963…

Hey! Little Girl
Comb your hair, fix your makeup
Soon he will open the door
Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger
You needn’t try anymore

For wives should always be lovers too
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you
I’m warning you…

Day after day
There are girls at the office
And men will always be men
Don’t send him off with your hair still in curlers
You may not see him again….

2011…

Just sayin’…

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(With thanks to Jade.)