Artists for Part 5

Louise Bourgeois, Marlene Dumas, Elizabeth Peyton, Wangechi Mutu, Chloe Piene

My tutor Joanne Mulvihill- Allen has suggested several artists whose work could be inspiring for my approach to Part 5.


Why am I so touched by Louise Bourgeois drawings?

I do not feel the same for the sculptures , but the drawings have such a personal vulnerable quality that really connects to my own fears and vulnerability.

They seem so quickly loosely scribbled, but just on the spot touch that sense of beauty while being scary and unsettling at the same time.



I wrote about Louise Bourgeois in an earlier post this year, after seeing her room at the Tate Modern in London and had to create a new category for that- the human figure- emotions. Although I felt a certain fascination then as well, I am observing how much deeper I am touched now.

Even her “patterns” or “scribbles” take organic shapes that resonate with some inner organs and movement.

Inspired by discovering these drawings again, I will experiment with drawing the poses of Assignment 5 in red watercolor and approach the form much more fluidly and less detailed than I have til now.

Momaorg. 2017. Momaorg. [Online]. [13 July 2017]. Available from:


The south African artist Marlene Dumas uses all kind of photographs -portraits and figures- from newspapers and magazines as a starting point, then translates them into her very personal paintings by cropping, the choice of colours and mixing of several approaches in the same painting, like spots and splashes, blurred parts, scribbled, sketched sections and more.


In the above series “Models” she explores beauty models but also women that she considers role models, like Gertude Stein.

I really enjoy this loose, not detailed almost monochrome paintings and how they work in a series. It reminds me of the series of women by Tina Berning I wrote about earlier in this course.

She uses a similar language for figures and nudes- the shapes hinted at, the paint bleeding, some details standing out. This again is something I would like to explore directly for the Assignment 5 postures.

She often explores the theme of death or sorrow through various angles, like finding modern images of la Pieta in photographs of war or disaster zones.  Here is a self portrait as a skull that she drew to illustrate an interview with her in the magazine Zeit:

self portrait


Marlenedumasnl. 2017. Marlenedumasnl. [Online]. [26 June 2017]. Available from:

Marlenedumasnl. 2017. Marlenedumasnl. [Online]. [26 June 2017]. Available from:


I wrote a post about Elisabeth Peyton for Part 4- the face, where I focused more on her paintings with blocks of bold colors:

I think I was initially a little disturbed by the fact that she paints mostly famous artists or royalty, often from photographs, but now I have listened to a few of her talks and interviews and feel that I understand her attraction and curiosity. She is fascinated by stars as creators, as people who really make great things, and by how their genius and creativity shines through their features- which is what Elisabeth Peyton is capturing.

In her drawings I found a lot of the finished/unfinished balance that am drawn to experiment with.

I love how she focuses on the features, which is what fascinates her, and then leaves the rest of the drawing uncolored and “unfinished”.

Gladstonegallerycom. 2017. Gladstonegallerycom. [Online]. [17 April 2017]. Available from:


Contrary to the sparse reduced works of Louise Bourgeois or Marlene Dumas above, Wangeshi Mutu’s art is an explosion of information and color and pattern.  She creates fantastic worlds, or fantastic journeys through collage and drawing.

I am really fascinated by Wangeshi Mutu’s work. It is a combination of pretty and gruesome, of playful and horrendous, with flowers and fantastic creatures mixed with women with chopped off limbs.


I also found myself really enjoying her video works that almost feel like drawings, with one motive unfolding slowly with sound and movement.

In an interview with the curator of her show at the Brooklyn Museum (, Wangemushi explains that her fictional dreamlike mythlike works express her opinions on questions like gender and colonisation, but they also act as portals for the viewer to access something very personal. This is how I feel when looking at her works- they allow the imagination to dive in and continue creating.

Wangechimutucom. 2017. Wangechimutucom. [Online]. [16 July 2017]. Available from:


“Drawing is the first thing and it is the final thing, so it can encompass everything”

“Drawing is primal, drawing is underneath everything, drawing is your design, your mechanism, your motivation. Drawing is action.”

These are quotes from Chloe Pienes speech seen in the video from the exhibition Drawing now  2015 (you tube

She explains how the seen and the unseen work together. The figures are floating and also there is no horizon line, so the figure itself totally defines the space, almost as if they are the space themselves.

At first I had a difficult time liking the ragged disjointed drawings of Chloe Piene. After reading more about the artist and hearing her explain the work, I feel more drawn to it and am curious to explore using a very free line.

Chloepienecom. 2017. Chloepienecom. [Online]. [18 July 2017]. Available from:

All of the artists I have taken a look at here, inspire to create more freely, with feeling and spontaneity. It is definitely a path away from realism or illustration and I feel inspired to experiment and explore.







Fototransfer is something that I have experimented with so long ago it seems like a previous life, transferring for example polaroids.  I keep encountering it in works that I really appreciate, like in a series in Robert Rauschenbergs exhibition inspired by Dante’s “Inferno”.  It is time to explore this again.


Coat both the paper and the image printed on a laser printer (not inkjet) with the acrylic media or transfer gel/gloss gel medium etc. and apply wet on wet.

Let dry for 24 h, or blow dry with a hairdryer if impatient.

Then wet the paper again with a sponge , let soak for a little while and rub off the paper back of the photo. Let dry, then repeat til all the paper back is gone.

Cover with transparent gesso or clear acrylic laquer.


I created a few pages in Photoshop with various yoga related texts or words in sanskrit and had them printed with a laser printer. Inverted image as it will be mirrored when transfered.

I tried two different acrylic mediums. Reeves Gloss Gel Medium has a chewy, sticky, paintlike texture. The paper sticks well, but its difficult to avoid uneven surface if that’s important for the motive. Great to build texture if that is wanted.

Amsterdam Acrylic medium 012, gloss, which is much more liquid, so easier to apply without excess.

The transfer worked similarly well with both medium:

I started out thinking of this technique for creating background, but I really like the almost “skinlike” character of the paper and can well imagine a body out of this….

Here I used smaller pieces together with watercolor and ink for background experiments:

My trials with newspaper and these two acrylic media were less successful. The paper sticks too well and rubbing off rubs off all. The exception was the Arabic newspaper that has a more slippery surface than the others.


I have tried transferring newspaper with lighter fuel and rubbing as Rauschenberg apparently did before, which works, but the drawings still smell so strongly you can not have them in your room two months later.

Foto transfer is a technique I definitely want to use for some of the layers in this Assignment.



My tutor has suggested that I take a look at techniques of monoprinting, so I am curious to explore that here.

A definition by Tate:

“The monoprint is a form of printmaking where the image can only be made once, unlike most printmaking which allows for multiple originals.

An impression is printed from a reprintable block, such as an etched plate or woodblock, but in such a way that only one of its kind exists, for example by incorporating unique hand-colouring or collage.

The term can also refer to etchings which are inked and wiped in an expressive, not precisely repeatable manner; to prints made from a variety of printing elements that change from one impression to the next; or to prints that are painted or otherwise reworked by hand either before or after printing.

The beauty of monoprinting lies in its spontaneity and its allowance for combinations of printmaking, painting and drawing media.

This last sentence is what really captures my attention!

Two examples here:

Monoprint with Red Hand 1973 by Berenice Sydney 1944-1983

Berenice Sydney- Monoprint from cut perspex on paper

[no title] circa 1955-6 by Naum Gabo 1890-1977

Naum Gabo- Monoprint from wood engraving on paper.

Tate. 2017. Tate. [Online]. [9 June 2017]. Available from:

Now to the more practical side- how do I try this out? How can I make an etching? a wood engraving? or what is cut perspex? This is really all new territory for me.


“Etching is a printmaking technique that uses chemical action to produce incised lines in a metal printing plate which then hold the applied ink and form the image

I have watched the episode of the BBC series “What do Artists do All day” about Norman Ackroyd and his stunning landscape etchings.
Etching is definitely not something I can try in my own home without special equipment.
Wood engraving:
“A printmaking method distinct from woodcut in that the line is incised into the woodblock, rather than the background being cut away to leave a line in relief.”
Wood cut:
“The block is carved so that an image stands out in relief. The relief image is then inked and paper placed against its surface before being run through a press. It is possible to make a woodcut without a press (Japanese Ukiyo-e prints for example) by placing the inked block against a sheet of paper and applying pressure by hand.”
These two methods sounds rather like they can be managed at home. But woodcarving? This would be a whole new experience!
I have already ordered two small flat pieces of wood that will be ready soon 🙂
How about “cut perspex” like in the example above by Berenice Sydney?
A Google search teaches me that Perspex is an acrylic sheet and I have found various tips on how to cut it using various tools like “circular saws” and “jigsaws”. I will have to find some simpler version here, that does not imply investing in tools a month before moving houses and even continents.
What is thin enough to be cut with a blade but resistant enough for printing? How about trying my old yogamat?
And a stupid question.. Do I use normal Indian ink? Or is “printing ink” something different?
Ah yes- of course there is a whole world of printing ink out there. They can be waterbased or oilbased . They are thicker in consistency  than a usual ink and can be wiped off.  So lets see what I can find here.
My further research has led me to find some much easier “home” ways of creating monoprints:
Placing objects:
Apply a thin layer of ink on a sandpapered plexiglas sheet and then placing various soft objects on top. Cover with the paper and press. I do not have any kind of press but a high pile of heavier books may do the trick?
Also I can probably do something similar using the old acrylic paints I already have instead of searching to buy special ink? And not having a rubber roller… could I use and empty bottle?
Another technique is to ink up the sandpapered plexiglas, place a paper on top of it and simply draw with the end tip of a paintbrush. This is getting more and more accessible!
“Kitchen lithography”
This method mimicks traditional lithography, but instead of using a copper plate, uses simple aluminium foil, and instead of chemicals uses carbonated drinks.
Place a sheet of aluminium foil on a plate of plexiglas, shiny side up, the foil slightly smaller than the plate and don’t touch the surface as the oil of the fingers will stay and make dots. Foil as flat as possible as the wrinkles print too. Lightly sand the surface of the shiny foil with a very fine sand paper to add texture and values. Mope it off with vinegar on a kitchen towel. Draw directly on the foil with a “lithocrayon”.
Pour cola fizzy drink over the drawing held over an empty bucket, the drink has to touch the whole drawing for about 5 seconds. Dab off the resting cola. Buff the image away using a sponge with vegetable oil.
Make the plate wet. Slowly use rubber roller to ink up the image. Keep the plate wet. Use damp paper. Place the paper on top and ideally use a press. (hm)
Probably the rubber roller IS necessary- to roll out the ink on a separate plate/plexiglass/ surface seems to be the first step of every of these methods.

Time to experiment!
I have ordered some wood to try carving but as it will only be ready in a couple of days, I start by trying to carve a rubber yogablock. It is softer than wood, but not as easy to carve as I imagined. The edges keep rolling up and the elasticity does not work in my favour.
I am carving feet, as I am pondering the saying ” I bow down to the lotus feet of the guru”, and have this idea with printing multiple feet in front of a small bowing figure.
First trials with acrylic paint and an empty glass bottle as a roller are not very successful. The rubber yields too much and it just gets messy, the grooves get full of paint and print darker than the “surface”:
 Despite the result, my taste for experimenting is awakened.
The wooden panels have arrived and I will try my luck with wood engraving:
 My little amateur tools are far too weak and the wood far too hard – my hands are red and bruised and I will not think of how much time this took and how disappointingly ragged my drawing is…
Also I have bought a rubber roller but still no luck in finding printing ink, so I will try with acrylic paint again, maybe it will work better with this hard wood.
No, acrylic paint does not work.
I really have to make some printing ink appear magically. This is one of the times that I would love to live in Europe and have an address…

A little more research and I discover that it is perfectly possible to use acrylic paints mixed with acrylic media and also wetting the paper to delay drying of the paint.
Time for more experiments:
I mix the acrylic paint with acrylic media and some water to create a still rather thick but very smooth texture that I apply on my wooden block with the rubber roller:
And here is the first monoprint:
Yay! It is working! It is messy and imperfect, but I am already encouraged to continue.
I thought the paint was too thick to be even , so I thin out the paint more and wetten the wooden plate before applying the ink. This proved to be the wrong way- everything just blended:
I try again with a blue color and find the right thickness:
I am monoprinting!
Now I grab the rubber yogablock and experiment with that as well:
This is fun! Now I start blending colors- printing one layer on top of the other:
And back to my wood block again:
I move on to the next type of experimenting: with a sheet of plexiglas.
First I scratch the surface with a fine sand paper to make the paint stick better:
Applying the paint evenly still was a nightmare! The rubber roller just wipes it off instead of spreading it. I experimented with all kinds of ratio of paint/ media and still was just wiping the paint around.. This is the best it got:
I then placed the soft objects on the plate , a piece of cloth and feathers, pressed the paper on top and covered by another plexiglass sheet and a pile of books.  Definitely failed! (and this sounded so easy!)
I then placed the ink stained objects directly on the paper instead, which created something more interesting:
And finally I tried inking up the plate, pressing the paper to it and drawing on the back of the paper.
For the black one, the paper was too dry, so it stuck to the plate. The pink one was wetter and slipped off easily, but the paint was still very blotchy. On both I drew random curls or fantasy letters:
All of the above experiments were pressed by hand or with heavy books in my kitchen. None of the results are really good, but I feel so happy about having tried! I will save the “kitchen etching method” for another time. The main issue was really to ink up the plate evenly and I still haven’t figured that out.
I have learned A LOT about a subject I had no idea about and feel curious to seek out some courses that offer experimenting in various printing techniques with equipment and the right facilities.



SIKA Gallery visit

SIKA Gallery, Ubud Bali

Today I had the opportunity to visit an exhibition of several contemporary Indonesian artists in renowned painter Wayan Sika’s Gallery here in Ubud, Indonesia. My time here in Indonesia is coming to an end , so I want to make the best of this time here by exploring the inspiring local art scene.

What struck me first is the very varied shapes of canvas used by the artists and a truly contemporary feel to traditional Indonesian subjects like village life or religious themes.

I Nyoman Suarnata is exploring the hexagonal shape that is appearing in the traditional basketweaving of Indonesia. Every household has a variety of baskets. The large hexagonal cavities are seen in baskets holding the loud cocks in every yard, they are used in every field to transport husk and used as lampshields. I found it original and interesting how the artist used this shape for the canvases depicting spontaneous scenes from a basket weaving village.



These cube canvases are aimed at looking three-dmensional:



I found it interesting how the artist uses one plane in color, one monochrome and one in black and white. Here I think the shape contradicts the subject though, as the baskets are all round, and it also lost the connection to the hexagonal.



In some portraits Nyoman Suarnata lets the structure of the basket shine through, working on several layers. I am inspired by this layering of shape or pattern and main subject- something to explore.

Ngakan Putu Agus Wijaya is painting on round canvases, like here in his works “Night” and “Black and White”:

There is a fairytale character to his animal paintings that appeal to me and I think the round shape works beautifully with these stories the paintings are telling, making it more playful and eliminating the sense of what is up and what is down.

I Putu Nova Ruspika Yanto’s paintings really live from the three- dimensional canvas :



The owner of the gallery- Wayan Sika has experimented with various supports like wood and metal, and shapes, like here a headshaped canvas:



In this exhibition he presented mainly rectangular paintings though- but always with a layered, interesting surface created by gauze or other added materials:

Wayan Sika is also painting the “Yoga” theme that I want to explore for this part of the course, through an Indonesian Hindu viewpoint.

This very clear “yoga /meditation/ religious” symbolism is exactly what I want to try and avoid in my exploration of the subject , and then I must admit that I am very drawn to it. The mandalas- the round shape- the exploding light beams- yes, I am drawn to it all. It will be a tricky path to navigate between pre concieved symbolism and kitch and a real expression of my own experience and exploration .

Visiting this exhibition today has inspired me to go past the obvious rectangle of the paper. It also made it clear that I need to tread carefully not to fall into obvious symbolism while exploring the subject of human movement through yoga poses.

Sketchbook pages 4, more

Pencildrawing on A2, my torso:


I am not very happy with this drawing, the pose is stiff and the skin got too dark.

Coloured pencils on A2:


I like this second version much better- the perspective is more interesting and the colour adds some life.

Experiment inspired by Richard Hambleton‘s shadow figures:

Here I experiment on A3, with black ink, trying out the moving figure with quick rough brushstrokes:

I really didn’t expect this would be as difficult as it was. First of all it is not as quick as it looks.  Very few of the figures look good and they all got too skinny. I really have to learn to draw fatter, I just realized that is another pattern. I think one little circumstance that limited me is the tiny tidy space in my partner’s bedroom I am working in now. I managed to splatter red ink on the walls for the X ray pictures I posted in the last Sketchbook section, so I am super careful now. It is probably just a bad excuse, but it does feel limiting to have to be careful.

I drew the two last pictures, A4 in womb like ovals, and they are the part of the experiment that I like the most- the contrast between the wild movement and the womb.

Frustration, oil pastel A4:


More oil pastel on black A4


Limbs A4

Blue day, A3 , colour pencil:


Oil pastels in black A4 sketchbook:


More oil pastels on black A4:


An experiment inspired by Egon Schiele after writing about his work in the research section:


I really admire the work of Egon Schiele, and this is nothing even remotely similar… but I really enjoy exploring artists by drawing inspired by their work.

Andre on black A4, oil pastel

IMG_7373 (1)

A4 colored pencils:



The Face : portrait and self- portrait

At first I would like to remember some of the artists I have already written about during the course, whose work become even more relevant now when embarking upon the study of the face:

Ritchelly Oliveira‘s photographically precise portraits , suddenly with some parts like the clothing left unfinished and with surreal elements like birds swirling around the heads, or leaves, bubbles, a line of paint covering some part. I am always fascinated by the balance between finished- unfinished and realism-fantasy.


Tina Berning’s portraits of women, in a quick sketchy way in different media but always with interesting expressive mark-making, on various random paper- also something that attracts me.


Picasso’s portraits, that are so very different over the course of his life. I wrote a post about this after visiting the exhibition in the National portrait Gallery in London.


Käthe Kollwitz captivating charcoal portraits and self- portraits, expressing so much emotion and humanity. One of her most famous self- portraits also shows the unfinished- finished with the face in detail and then her arm continuing into a rough scribble. I wrote a post about this artist during the Foundation course. Taking another look at her portraits makes me want to explore the use of charcoal more in depth.


As part of the research suggested by the course, I will take a look at the portraits of Graham Little compared to the ones of Elisabeth Peyton.

GRAHAM LITTLE  (b. 1972)

Although Graham Little’s portraits shows women in an interior environment and usually busying themselves with some task, they are very calm and quiet. The colours are subtle, the expressions gentle, the movements seem slow. There is a very quiet atmosphere in all of these gouache and coloured pencil works on paper. There is also an oddly disturbing sense of unreality in the grey glow of the women and the too perfect, stylized poses and detailed surroundings.

Graham little, . 2017. Alison Jacques Gallery. [Online]. [17 April 2017]. Available from:


Elisabeth Peyton is panting on wood panels that she first covers with many layers of gesso, sanding in between so that the surface becomes like glass and allows her to use the paint with bold quick strokes that remain clearly visible. She paints in large blocks of colour, very different from the subtle tones of Graham Little above.

The left painting is a self -portrait. Otherwise Elisabeth Peyton paints artists, musicians and in any case studies and expresses the personality of her models through the painting- also very different from the neutral personality-devoid models of Graham Little’s work.

Gladstonegallerycom. 2017. Gladstonegallerycom. [Online]. [17 April 2017]. Available from:

Gagosiancom. 2017. Gagosiancom. [Online]. [17 April 2017]. Available from:

JUUL KRAIJER  (b. 1970)

The Dutch artist Juul Kraijer draws the “everywoman” in portraits or nudes- the female form of being human, without personality- an archetype- naked and without eyebrows.

She uses charcoal, and rarely ink , little detail, basic media. Her drawings often have a surreal element – swarms of insects, flames, letters emerging from the faces or bodies.

Again I am rather fascinated by these surrealist elements appearing and would like to experiment with various patterns and the face in my own drawings. I am also curious about this exploring of the face without personality.

Juul kraijer. 2017. Juulkraijercom. [Online]. [17 April 2017]. Available from:



I have become slightly obsessed with the portraits of Alberto Giacometti. I saw some of his paintings in the Stuttgart Staatsgallery and then came across them again while researching drawing with a limited palette, and now I have been watching several biographies about his art.

Giacometti was constantly drawing since early childhood and he says in an interview that everything is drawing for him, sculpture is just drawing in a different media. After a few years exploring surrealist art, he returns to reality and models, and these are the works that interest me the most. He is constantly drawing and painting the same motives and models over and over and also drawing and painting over and over the same canvas , on the search for a truth that is just evading.

Giacometti came from a small Swiss- Italian village where he returned regularly, but chose to mainly live and work in a small very simple studio in Paris that is pictured in many of his paintings- you can see the canvases in the background of the portraits, and stillife of bottles and apples in his studio was a recurring theme.

Giacometti used the same model again and again- his wife Anette, his mother, his lover Caroline, his friend the Japanese philisopher Isaku Yanaihara, so there are many many works of these same models.

The model had to be very still. Giacometti did not want to express any emotion, he was searching for some deeper human universal qualities. He always started with the eyes- the eyes he said- are made of a whole other material than the rest, it is precise like an optical instrument. From there he found lines and frames and scribbles his dark strong marks before adding colours. This goes on in layers upon layers, but with parts left untouched. I think this is part of what fascinates me. This search that doesn’t stop til all the colors blend in a grey , and yet, some parts left untouched and marks from previous forms left there as well. A contrast between the stillness of the model too and the movement and chaos of the marks and work of the artist.

There is mostly a lighter halo around the head, or as in the last one, a dark cloud. Giacometti explained this as the form of the person always surpassing the person.

Giacomettis many many sculptures of an elongated female figure standing still and a male figure walking is what I knew before discovering his portraits:

The figures become longer and thinner towards disappearing. They are always alone, even placed in large groups, they will have no interaction between them whatsoever and never meet. The women are immobile, only to be looked at and to return that look- the men in action, like himself, constantly doing in front of the immobile model.

Fondation-giacomettifr. 2017. Fondation-giacomettifr. [Online]. [1 February 2017]. Available from:

MARK MANDERS (b. 1968)

I came across the work of the Dutch artist Mark Manders while struggling with vanishing point and perspective, as he has created various drawings around this theme, like these two that I find really funny :

He has also repeatedly exhibited a larger body of work including drawings and installations named “Self portrait through a building”. I found this rather fascinating as it is so very remote from how I could ever express a self- portrait:


Markmandersorg. 2017. Markmandersorg. [Online]. [17 April 2017]. Available from:


The Indonesian artist Veri Apriyatno draws very large scale detailed multiple self-portraits in pencil. He appears several times in different dynamic poses within each drawing. He explains in an interview in the Daily Mail that he explores who he is by identifying his emotions such as alienation, loneliness and emptiness, emotions that change the whole time.

I came across this artist while researching the moving figure- and the dynamic movement in the drawings is what attracts me the most. I like the idea of combining several self-portraits with varying emotions into the same drawing and am thinking of how to explore this idea.



Looking at contemporary portrait artists, I discovered a surprising number of portraits that appear to be melting, or flowing away from the canvas- where the portrait is smeared almost to a point of being unrecognizable.

This reminds me of some works by Francis Bacon, and although they create an alarming sense of anguish or fear, I find this movement rather unappealing and strange that it can gain such popularity internationally.

Pepijn Simon, Netherlands

Pepijnsimoncom. 2017. Pepijnsimoncom. [Online]. [17 April 2017]. Available from:

Norris Yim, Hong Kong:

Theartlingcom. 2017. Theartlingcom. [Online]. [17 April 2017]. Available from:

Maxim Fomenko, Germany:

Fomenkoartcom. 2017. Fomenkoartcom. [Online]. [17 April 2017]. Available from:

EGON SCHIELE (1890-1918)

I wrote quite extensively about Egon Schiele for the section on “the Nude”, so I will avoid repeating myself here- but want to take a closer look at his portraits, and especially self- portraits.

Egon Schiele painted and drew an incredible number of self- portraits , revealing  the same intensity of emotion as his other works, raw, anguished, intensely sexual, angry, or just disdainful, self confident. The mark making and cropping mirrors this. There is nothing idealized or embellished, and this sense of raw honesty makes me just admire Egon Schieles portraits .

Leopoldmuseumorg. 2017. Leopoldmuseumorg. [Online]. [17 April 2017]. Available from:


the NUDE

What is a nude?

In his book “The Nude: a study in ideal form” from 1956, Kenneth Clark writes “being naked is being without clothes. The nude is a form of art”

In episode 2 of his famous TV series ” Ways of Seeing ” from 1972, (available on You Tube) as well as in his book of the same name, John Berger says “to be naked is to be oneself, to be nude is to be SEEN naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself (p.54) “A naked body has to be seen as an object to become a nude”. (…)”Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. To be naked is to be without disguise. To be on display is to have the surface of one’s own body, turned into disguise which, in that situation , can never be discarded. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress”.

There is also a very big gap between the perception of men and women that John Berger talks about.

“Men dream of women, women dream of themselves as being dreamed of. Men look at women.Women watch themselves being looked at.” This is the opening phrase of the TV program . And further : ” a woman is always accompanied by her own image of herself”.

Seeing and reading John Berger’s explanations has altered my view of many paintings and on the nude in European oil painting especially. I think that although I am a woman, I have often admired a nude from the point of view of the (male) spectator, without becoming fully aware of the passivity, of the submission of the model, of the disappearance of the person. It is true, that in the tradition of European oil painting, the female nude is showed reclined, languid , passive and often in an awareness of being seen by the spectator outside of the painting. I am also reminded of how my own perception of beauty is formed by this long history of looking at the nude, mainly the female nude, with it’s changing beauty ideals from this point of the judging viewer.

In the European oil painting, there are a very few exceptions , as John Berger points out (p.57) where artists have painted the women they love, and then break the art form, the nude becoming a love poem to a specific person, where the woman is just more or less naked.

I will here take a look at some of the classical modern nude paintings and then explore some contemporary nudes and how valid this definition seems today.

Kenneth Clark (1956). The Nude: a study in ideal form. Garden City, NY : : Doubleday Anchor Books.

John Berger (1972). Ways of Seeing. England: BBC and Penguin books.

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

When thinking of Edgar Degas , his pastel drawings of ballet dancers come to my mind first, but I am also touched by some of his beautiful nudes, that contrary to the languid models exposing themselves to the viewer in the older European oil paintings, are busy and seem unaware of being observed in intimate moments.

Degas continued drawing nudes all through his life, so used all the different styles and techniques he explored in this genre too, going from complex historical paintings, to series of prostitutes in brothels. But these “naturalist nudes’, where he observes simple daily routines of bathing or combing the hair are the works that I like the most.

Gradually the works became less detailed and more bold in colour experimentation, with unusual angles and light.

Musee-orsayfr. 2017. Musee-orsayfr. [Online]. [4 April 2017]. Available from:

HENRI MATISSE (1869-1954)

The innovations that Henri Matisse brought to modern art can be equaled to those of Picasso. He emerged as a post impressionist and then created the art movement Fauvism. He used some elements of Cubism, but it was always color that was the main element of his work.

I just love the vibrant colors and effortless form of Henri Matisses paintings. Instead of using shading or working on depth of  form, he is using contrasting areas of color.

Although the reclining subjects of pink nude and blue nude follow the traditional submissive reclined female nude’s format- there is nothing submissive in these models.

The dance is a dance of joy and color

The sculptural and joyful approach to the human figure culminated in the cut outs that Matisse turned too at the end of his life. Here there is a definite move away from the idealized human figure, rather they become a symbol of the nude.

Henrimatisseorg. 2017. Henrimatisseorg. [Online]. [4 April 2017]. Available from:

Theartstoryorg. 2017. The Art Story. [Online]. [16 April 2017]. Available from:

 EGON SCHIELE (1890 – 1918)

The twisted , gnarly, anguished, passionate drawings of Egon Schiele touch me deeply.

With sparse and at times chaotic marks and unproportionate big hands and heads Egon Schiele’s work has a very personal style. It is a very new and frank depiction of the human body, full of emotion, anxiety, anger, desire, passion. His nudes are raw and sexual, sometimes the models are masturbating.

It is not surprising that he was accused of pornography and arrested at his time.  Egon Schiele lived in Vienna at the beginning of the 19 th Century- as Vienna was the capital of the Austro- Hungarian Empire, and it was a climate of contradictions  between the luxury of high life, high society and the collapse facing World War 1. Gustav Klimt was the most famous painter in Vienna at the time  and a mentor of Schiele’s, the expressionist Oscar Kokoshka another contemporary  and Sigmund Freud leading the intellectual debate.

Egon Schiele was obsessed by himself- creating hundreds of self- portraits that I will look at again in the portrait section. He also drew himself nude , and masturbating- a stark frankness.

He was also obsessed by the body, by sex, by death. After a passionate love affair with  his model Waly, that lasted for 4 years, he paints the masterpiece “Death and the Maiden” 1915- the death of a love affair as Egon Schiele moves on to marry another woman- and the death of Europe – World War 1. He is himself the model for Death , and Waly the Maiden.


Looking at the drawings again, I am drawn to the twisted, torn, tense and bony bodies. I admire the sparse marks and how many parts of the drawing are left unfinished. Often the face and hands are detailed and the rest of the figures are left unfinished, although often intricate eyecatching patterns are part of the drawings. Face-hands-patterns. There is often a combination of coloured parts and uncoloured as well, that I would like to explore.

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

I took a closer look at Pablo Picasso’s portraits for the visit of his exhibition at the National Art Gallery in London in a separate post.

The nude was also a theme that recurred in every phase of Picasso’s  artistic development.

I especially like this very well known “Blue Nude” from 1902, a very simple composition and pose, painted in only one colour and still expressing so much :


“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” from 1907 is the most famous example of cubist painting:

avignonThe bodies are distorted and formed by unexpected geometric shapes, a new way of seeing! This is far from the traditional beauty ideals of the female body, but at the same time , thinking of John Berger’s ways of seeing, here is still the traditional exposure of the female body, the look to the viewer.

In “Woman in an arm chair” from 1929, the human figure has become even more surrealist, with organic, melting shapes. This may be another masterpiece, but I find it disturbing ugly.


Pablopicassoorg. 2017. Pablopicassoorg. [Online]. [16 April 2017]. Available from:


The Italian artist Amedeo Modigliano  painted faces and figures that are elongated and flat. He painted many reclining nudes, in a very classical pose, but with that modern flat take.

He modernized the view of many traditional classical paintings. This painting, “standing blonde nude with dropped chemise” from 1917 is referring to Boticelli’s Birth of Venus, but in a modern way, and instead of hiding the sex, the composition is drawing our attention to it in a rather provocative way.


Theartstoryorg. 2017. The Art Story. [Online]. [16 April 2017]. Available from:

EUAN UGLOW  (1932-2000)

The British painter Euan Uglow painted nudes in  sparse bare settings. They appear almost sculptural with patches of colour that make the flesh seem chiseled from stone.

Nude 1962-3 Euan Uglow 1932-2000 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1964
Zagi 1981-2 Euan Uglow 1932-2000 Purchased 1982
Uglow, Euan; Gyroscope Nude; The Hepworth Wakefield;

I have read that Uglow painted very slowly and took very careful and slow measurements which are still visible on the canvas, but the final painting is not so detailed , it still has a roughness that appeals to me. I also like the simple interaction of the models with their environment.

Tate. 2017. Tate. [Online]. [3 April 2017]. Available from:

Artukorg. 2017. Artukorg. [Online]. [3 April 2017]. Available from:


I have written more about Jenny Saville’s approach to the nude as “a contemporary landscape of the body” in the section “Foreshortening”, but here I want to take another look at her work “the Mirror”.


This painting is the history of the reclining nude reflecting itself.    In a conversation for the opening of her exhibition in 2012 at the TATE Modern ( Jenny says:

“The nude is a very difficult language to meet today, because you read every nude , with all the other nudes that you have seen, and all the ones that you have made and all the ones that exist in art history. So instead of trying to make a new one, I just brought them all in. It was working with Picasso, with Manet..”

“I don’t have a very scholarly view of art history- I am more a scavenger- I take bits here and there. You are constantly stealing anyway.”

Besides really liking Jenny Saville’s paintings and the many layers and simultaneous stories of her drawings, I admire this bold borrowing from the masters of Modern Art, and the ease with which Jenny places herself in their lineage.


I came across the beautiful book ” Exercisios de delicada Intimidade” (Exercises in delicate intimacy), with drawings and paintings from contemporary Portuguese artist Jose Rodrigues.

He treats a wide range of themes from mythology and religion through figure drawings, but also personal experiences, like studying the pubic hair of his lover.  But although the themes vary greatly,  his style of roughly drawn outlines and unfinished details , sometimes combined with an element of collage, is consistent.

I keep being drawn to works with this rougher or unfinished style and really want to learn how to stop polishing everything too much 🙂

Jose rodrigues (2012). Exercisios de delicada intimidade. Porto: Bial.



The American artist John Currin is pushing the controversy or the dialogue around the female nude to a peak with his provocative art.

“Consistent throughout his oeuvre is his search for the point at which the beautiful and the grotesque are held in perfect balance.”

He is a master of classical technique, but then uses pin up pictures and expressively provocative sexual poses and symbols to chock.

I am not particulary attracted to John Currin’s paintings, but find it interesting to note that they are at a peak of popularity now, selling at enormous sums and appearing at exhibitions around the world.

I have written about Tracey Emin, Louise Bourgeois and Anthony Gormley‘s work in a separate post called “Emotions, memories , dreams” as they are all working mainly with their own bodies in different ways, but their approach is exploring being in the body as a personal experience and not exploring the nude in the sense of the artists I have written about here.