This hand-made lino print is based on an 18th century statuette by Falconet and images of Gunnera found on the web. Gunnera, or ‘giant rhubarb,’ is found near ponds and rivers as it likes a lot of water, so it seemed appropriate for this nude lady dipping her toe in the water.
Not a perfect print, but I have yet to settle in my mind how perfect hand-made prints ought to be. There is some charm in what the Japanese call wabi-sabi, which according to Wikipedia is ‘a world view centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.’ In this and similar artist’s prints I am aiming for near-perfection in the nude figure, emphasising the pure line and form, and am more tolerant of accidental effects in the foliage or landscape.
This print will be available on my Etsy site when I have time to edition it.
This is an A4-size lino block (approximately 21x30cm), partly carved. You can see my search lines in pencil. I first drew her skinnier than she is in Boucher’s drawing, and looking critically at my drawing compared with his I came to better appreciate the Rococo taste for, let us say, more substantial women.
Having drawn the image in pencil I then went over the important lines with a fine-liner and then with a brush and ink. This means I have a pretty good idea of what the finished print will look like. In the image shown I have begun to carve out the face and some other key areas. I like to do the face first, because if that is wrong the rest might as well be thrown away.
I stole this image from a painting in the style of Jaques Charlier called The Adorning of Venus. My version is intended to be both serious and playful.
I had to find the essential lines in the original painting in order to reduce it to a lino print in one colour. No fudging is possible. Each line is either there or it isn’t. Of course, one has to use lines also to imply what isn’t shown, thus for example her lower lip is implied by the upper lip and the shadow under the lower lip, and flowers are suggested by the edges of petals. As in my earlier attempts at this genre, in copying one comes to appreciate the skill of the original artist not just in representation but also in composition.
The original painting displays the same contrast of light body against a dark background, but with a diaphanous cloth caressing the sitter’s naked form. While I have copied the general structure of the folds of the material, I have taken a few playful liberties with it, in order to create some wave-like patterns, almost as if she is Venus being reborn from the sea.
On the male and female gaze
Not infrequently one comes across essays on the internet and elsewhere questioning the depiction of the female nude in art, and discussing the ‘male gaze,’ usually with the implication that there is something wrong with it. There is of course a huge historical imbalance in terms of the number of depictions of female nudes in art in relation to the number of female artists, at least until the present century. There are also serious political and social questions around traditional depictions of women as passive and disempowered, politically, socially, sexually and economically.
I would argue, though, that art seeks the beautiful. (‘Art’ exists that doesn’t, but that is not my concern today.) Natural forms are beautiful, and the human body holds a special place among them. A well-executed nude, male or female, has a power hard to replicate in landscape or flower painting, awesome though these other genres can be.
The problem in my view is not so much the male gaze, which is what it is, but the relative absence of the female gaze. We also have many examples in art of male nudes, done mostly by male artists. We already have the male homosexual gaze, for example in the works of Caravaggio and Michaelangelo. There are no doubt historical reasons for the absence of the female artist’s gaze on the male nude, women having been largely excluded from the ateliers and life drawing classes.
Now that it is socially possible for women to attend life classes, representational art is out of fashion, at least in the kind of modern art that attracts financial speculation. Some art schools no longer even offer life classes. I once attended evening life drawing classes near a renowned Art College which boasts several Turner Prize winners among its alumni. Some of the other (as it happens, female) students at the class had come across from the College because they were not offered life classes there.
So now when at last the female gaze on the male form becomes possible, it remains rare. I attribute that largely to a decline in artistic training. It would be a shame, in my view, to succumb to puritanism when a better solution would be the empowerment of the female gaze.
A lino print adapted from Charles-Joseph Natoir’s 1735 study for ‘The Toilet of Psyche.’ Natoir’s sketch is illustrated in Perrin Stein, ‘French Drawings, Clouet to Seurat,’ The British Museum Press 2005 p121. As before, I have tried to reduce the image to its essential lines, in the process learning from one of the masters. The speckles are an accident resulting from the lack of a high-quality roller and from the printing plate resisting the ink, but I like the effect.
This is another small-scale print, image size 6 x 4 inches (15 x 10cm).