28 June 2011

Young artists having hormones

It’s no new discovery, but young blokes doing radical art have active hormones. It was obvious in the drawings that Megan and I perused at the new exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite drawing at the Art Gallery of NSW over the weekend.

They also have a good degree of overt seriousness in intent and invention (again, no surprise) and just occasionally a bit of humour. I laughed out aloud at a preparatory sketch for a stained glass window picturing the Assumption (Jesus taken to Heaven, for we of our post-Christian era). It was shaped like a rocket with two feet dangling at the top and a few apostles chatting below. And another religious scene had Noah diligently designing, model ark in his lap and compass in hand and young male acolyte peering over his shoulder, but with three very pretty girls peering in at the scene. Thus is the world view of youth and so it should be. And they were youthful! There were a series of portraits that showed them aged 17+ with wispy beards although their associates, author/artist John Ruskin and Arts and Craftsman William Morris, seemed to be older given their decent growths. There were a few Australian connections, too. One of the group had gone off to Australia and they had made these portraits for him. Edward Pugin (the architect and interior designer of the English Houses of Parliament) was an associate. He’d spent 5 years in Tasmania and architected at least one church there. And I have a personal connection. I studied with the great-granddaughter (?) of John William Waterhouse at Adelaide University. JWW was an artist of attractive historical/mythological scenes whom I’d known from his Circe in the Art Gallery in Adelaide. He also has two huge paintings on permanent display the Art Gallery of NSW. Why Pre-Raphaelite? They were a radical art movement, rejecting standard approaches and training of the London art establishment of Joshua Reynolds and the English Royal Academy of Art, seeking to return to a mediaeval beauty dating before Raphael (thus pre-Raphaelites) and the Mannerists who followed him. Their art depicted lots of flowing robes, mediaeval imagery and mythological scenes, but their damsels were fiery red haired English beauties that they were very much in touch with. I should mention some names.

The original Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood comprised seven people: Hunt, Millais, 2xRossetti, Collinson, Stephens and Woolner, the sculptor who went to Australia. There were many followers or associates including Burne-Jones, Cowper, JW Waterhouse, Ruskin, William Morris and the artist and frequent model Elizabeth Siddal. It’s a long way from our hyper-rationalist era although our Goths are romantic if lacking in colour and our hippies had a parallel but less intellectual romanticism in the ‘60s. The Pre-Raphaelites present a madly attractive but un-Realist view of the world: young and innocent, obsessed by death but untouched by it, vivid, sensual, colourful and well-draped.

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons and the providers of these public domain images

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