My interest in the human form was sparked by an investigation into transcriptions at the start of my A2 year. I studied two artists in particular: Leonardo Da Vinci and Johannes Vermeer. Leonardo Da Vinci is a perfect example of Italian Renaissance art and techniques, focusing primarily on the human form as a subject material. Da Vinci is an interesting artist to analyse as his works are often considered to be the result of a scientific basis. His compositions often employ a vanishing point and the presence of strong, diagonal lines which draw the eye to certain aspects of the paintings. However, it was Da Vinci’s ability to create realistic impressions of people that inspired me to study his technique. I found that his representation of faces, especially expression and skin tone, create an intimacy that is often lacking in some paintings. The painting that I chose to study in the preliminary stages of my project was ‘Madonna of the Rocks’ because it presents wide variety of different facial expressions and an exquisite use of shadow and highlights. The different sight-lines of the subjects interest me because it creates a feeling of curiosity as to where and why they are looking. The triangular shape created in the negative space between the figures’ heads is a technique that Da Vinci often employs to draw the eye to places of interest. I also had the opportunity to visit the Louvre in Paris where the original painting resides; although it has darkened considerably with age, the beauty of the painting is still evident and the faces still radiate serenity, the aspect that interests me most about Da Vinci’s portraits. My research into Da Vinci also extended to the book ‘Leonardo Da Vinci: 1452-1519: The Complete Paintings and Drawings’ by Frank Zoellner and Johannes Nathan, which was extremely useful. The book contained many of Da Vinci’s original drawings which provided me with a skeleton on which to build my own ideas. The Da Vinci Diamond Jubilee exhibition in Birmingham displayed ten original, unseen sketches and this allowed me to see the intricacy and technicality of his paintings. Leonardo always maintained that ‘an image transmitted knowledge more accurately and concisely than any words,’ a notion which is shown in his paintings and exemplifies my interest in human expression shown in art. My interest in Johannes Vermeer lies in his use of perspective, colour and tone in his paintings, particularly the way he effortlessly portrays natural light. I found his choice of colour to depict certain aspects of the human face in light to be beautifully intricate and realistic. I chose to study ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’ as Vermeer’s expert presentation of expression, colour and light is displayed in this painting. As well as being one of my favourite paintings, the illusive nature of the girl in the picture is one that has fascinated art appraisers around the world. It is the subject’s face, the gentle tilt of the head, captivating eyes and delicate light, which invites the viewer into an intimate relationship between the sitter, the painter and themselves. ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’ is a prime example of an artist fascinated by his subject, the painting exudes reverence, idolisation and a fascination for her youth, beauty and innocence. The viewer is drawn into this reverie by the direct glance of the girl out of the portrait; we become spectators to an intimate relationship between painter and model. I have attempted to recreate this closeness in my own work utilising a subject’s gaze and angle of face. From this investigation into faces, I examined colour, tone, expression and lighting in different ways to ascertain the best techniques for creating realistic and interesting forms. My project progresses from this notion into my own personal work with photography, using faces as my subject material. The aim of my project was to produce a series of outcomes from my work with photographs, utilising the techniques I learned from my original research phases.
Difficult Women, from Outcast to Madhouse.
A study of women in Victorian Literature.
(An exploration of the texts ‘Vanity Fair’ by William Makepeace Thackeray, ‘Villette’ by Charlotte Brontë, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and illuminated by readings of other texts and context.)
Prior to the 18th century, the presence of madness in literature was predisposed towards a masculine presentation. However, the feminisation of madness is a notion that is firmly embedded within Victorian literature, which poses the question: when did insanity become a female malady? The Romantic period saw the birth of fascination with female figures such as Shakespeare’s Ophelia, popularised by reproductions such as John Everett Millais’s painting. The controversial portrayal of feminine madness as hysterical, sexual and defiant against the archetypal psychosis can be seen to be the pivot point of the gender spectrum of insanity. After the publication of the acclaimed poem by Coventry Patmore, ‘The Angel in the House,’ the title became an adjective for orthodox women; any disparity to this ethos was construed as unconventional. At a time when the medical profession was dominated by men, many women fell prey to the misogynistic ideals of women as weak-willed and prone to the ‘feminine taint’ of insanity. This is exemplified by the literature of the period, particularly the characterisation of female madness. Many literary works displayed difficult women as insane, either as an agreement or a critique of society’s treatment of women. The precarious dividing line between controversy and madness presents the predicament of categorising the immoral and the insane woman in Victorian literature. ‘Vanity Fair’ by William Makepeace Thackeray deals with a complex woman; her portrayal prompts the discussion: is she mad or simply controversial? The outrageous Becky Sharp embodies none of the traditional ‘angel in the house’ qualities, in fact she is depicted as seductive, scheming and- as her name suggests- sharp-witted. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Villette’ both address the issues of depression and the deterioration of mental health; both can be seen as social critique of ‘the angel in the house’ theorem and of the domestication of women as a cause of insanity. The two protagonists suffer from a corrosion of their mental state stemming from the subjugation and loneliness of feminine domesticity. This continuum of femininity displays the ostracism of difficult women either through social isolation or incarceration in a madhouse. Through the study of these texts it becomes apparent that there are four areas which aid in the categorisation of ‘mad’ women: the feminine continuum, the domestication of women, the definition of madness and the role of men.
Imagine one day someone or something puts a glass box over your whole body, trapping you. Wherever you go, the box goes too. You can’t see it, because it’s transparent, but you know it’s there. Whenever you try to talk to someone or engage with them you feel the box is there and maybe they do too if they look closely. So you try to ignore the box, you go out with people, be reckless and try and put nice things on the box to make it look pretty. But it just draws more attention to the fact it’s there. So you try and break it, you do stupid things and hope that the box will realise it’s not wanted. But whatever you do, the box won’t break. Sometimes there are cracks from where other people have hurt the box but over time these become whole again and you are back to square one. Now imagine giving up and succumbing to the idea that you will never leave the box. Doesn’t that sound awful?