Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Summer Brief: Exchange and Re-Interpret

Part 1- Initial Meeting
Before you leave today, get into groups of 2. You are then to arrange and meet together at an Art Gallery.
  • select and agree on a piece of work that you see
  • read the information about the piece and understand its' context
  • what is it about?
  • what was happening in the world at this time? Record artist and date.
  • Discuss the work and observe what it is that interests you about it.
  • Buy a postcard of the image, photograph it or find it in a book so that you can refer back to it.
Part 2-The Project
  • buy a sketchbook
  • independently respond to/re-work the image
  • identify a theme within the work to focus on
  • what is it that you find stimulating?
  • if it is not apparent at first-let it emerge (as Picasso did!)
  • your connections can be obvious or abstract. You may home in on a tiny background detail, or focus on a purely aesthetic quality e.g. shapes or colour. You may ask what is happening in the picture and build your own narrative or trace what has influenced this piece of work. The piece may lead you to think about a social or political concern. Let yourself go on a journey. It doesn’t matter where it ends up. The A-Z is what is important. Record your thought process and engage with something that you find genuine interest in. Post musings/observations on your blog.
Part 3-Pairing

From the work you have created individually, agree a date to exchange your work with your other half either by post, email or physically.
Work intuitively to either respond to or interact with the piece of work. You should make 6 exchanges together. It is entirely up to your pairing whether you develop the same piece of work that you started with or you begin to have a range of images that derived from the original choice.
There are no limitations on size, format and media. Surprise us.

This is the first time we have been asked to do a serious collaborative project, and the thought of mixing with and working from the imagination of my class-mates is exciting and I'm really looking forward to seeing what evolves from our exchanges.
After being briefed, I grouped together with Bryony and Hannah (we have confirmed with our tutor that it is ok to work in a three). 

'Hylas and the Nymphs' by John William Waterhouse, 1896, Manchester City Gallery

We visited Manchester City Gallery, where we explored the art work and decided on a classical piece, ‘Hylas and the Nymphs’ by John William Waterhouse. It is based on the Greek legend Jason and the Argonauts.

 ‘Waterhouse's Hylas and the Nymphs brings to life a version of the Greek myth, Jason and the Argonauts, as told by William Morris in The Life and Death of Jason. In Morris' version, Hercules is left on the island of Lemnos after his companion, the handsome Hylas, wanders away from the ship. Hylas comes across a group of sea-nymphs who, enchanted by his beauty, seduce him into loving them, eventually dragging him into the sea water with them. The Argo leaves Hercules and Hylas behind on the island, and Hylas is never found.’


John William Waterhouse's eroticized Hylas and the Nymphs’, Meaghan Kelly '05.5, English and History of Art 151, Brown University, 2004, (http://www.victorianweb.org/painting/jww/paintings/kelly11.html)]

This is quite a large, visually rich painting, with lots of detail. It draws the viewer into the story; the moment that has been captured seems very intense, making it captivating. The main focus of the painting is the gaze held between Hylas and the Nymph who is holding his arm. He appears hypnotised, held there by the seemingly magical hold she has over him. According to the story, the nymphs thereafter drag him down into the water with them, never to be seen again, so there is a strong sense of foreboding. From his body language, it could be inferred that Hylas is fighting his own sense of caution. His stance is vulnerable, he is surrendering his will as he leans towards the Nymph, almost like her gaze itself is pulling him forward physically, yet his left arm is held back, leaning his body partly away from her. He appears unconsciously aware that he shouldn’t give in to their seduction; he has to move on with his quest.
There is so much to read into and analyse when looking at this picture. The main theme that arises is the female allure; the nymphs’ role as femme fatales.
It is interesting to consider how they appear. At the time this was painted (1896), Victorian pornography was getting considerably raunchy, and in comparison, this image which is famously portraying the nymphs as sexual beings, is quite tame.
So far, in my attempted studies of the painting, I’ve discovered the major difficulty is recreating the look of the gaze. The eye contact between Hylas and the Nymphs is what makes the image so powerful; getting the eyes right makes or breaks the picture in terms of the mood they create.
I also find it interesting how the expression and general demeanor of the nymphs does not immediately suggest that they are ‘femme fatale’ in an obvious, predatory sense. They are not making an apparent effort to lure him in in a sexual way. In fact, the women appear overtly pure, and deceptively innocent; most look slightly shy and tentative in Hylas’s presence. This is enforced visually by their pale skin, which seems to make them glow ethereally; they light up the dark water around them, like beacons that he cannot avoid. Their danger is arguably increased by their seemingly harmless nature. Their surroundings, the dark depths of the mysterious water around them, is what makes the scene so ominous. Their appearance as beautiful, lovely females is what enables them to pull him into their enchanting imprisonment.

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