Motorbike gangs: a wasted culture?

It’s been a week since white men blue with tattoos all over their bodies descended on Marina di Massa, formerly a peaceful Tuscany coastal town.

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Most of the tattoos preach love, kindness, and concern about the human condition.

Of course I am joking. Think of something criminal. Now think of Valhalla, Vikings, silicone girls, sculls, and flames. Imagine all this in a single image. Yes, you got it.

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Teenagers look at them with the awe of visitors to a shark tank.

I myself dreamt of getting a motorbike from the age of 10 to 13. I had a bicycle and it was a million times less cool than having a bicycle with an engine, which today would be called a scooter. A proper motorbike was the ultimate dream. Pretty girls paid attention only to boys with bikes with an engine. The most pretty girls actually dated guys with bikes, or so I thought.

I got cured from this bike obsession when I managed to secure a proper date without the motorbike back-up. At 13.

Most of the adult bikers must have repeatedly failed in the dating department. Oh, don’t take me wrong: I am talking of “ganged” bikers, the ones that belong to gangs with hellishly named MCs on their uniform jackets, not the ones who simply ride bikes instead of cars. The latter are perfectly adequate, and often admired adventurers albeit with a shorter life expectancy. 

The Bandidos MC gang descended onto Italy to celebrate whatever it is men, who don’t take a spare pair of underpants with them when they travel, love to cheer about.

The US and Canada recognise the Bandidos MC as a criminal organisation, a bunch of racketeers, pimps, and drug-traffickers. Yet, Europe – despite the Bandidos have been leaving a trail of gangster activity and murders across the EU – is remarkably tolerant. The group here is mostly German, but there are a few NL, FR, and FI license plates as well; even some Thai and Vietnamese “brothers” have been spotted, but I guess they didn’t flow in with their bikes.

Grown-ups, especially the ones with access to Wiki, seem to be less enthusiastic than their teenage sons.

“My god, they do smell”, is a popular complaint on the beach these days. If nods that the comment is “harvesting” were ‘Likes’, it would be all over Facebook. It is the smell of men who believe taking shower is beneath them, and deodorants are for sissies.

Occasionally, the Bandidos ride out in a solemn procession just to ride back half an hour later to get a re-load of beer. Empty bottles and cans are dropped on the pavement in picturesque arrangements with cigarette stubs. Garbage bins are for sissies too.

They don’t smile at people who are not Bandidos. The way they look at people can bruise an unsuspecting passerby. Relaxed vacationers carrying a can of beer or other valuables pick up speed when they see a Bandido.

As I take out a bottle of Nastro Azzurro from my minibar fridge, I decide to drink it before I venture out.

The Harvey Song blares out from loudspeakers in the garden. It rhymes “tight- night”, “one-sun”, “wild-child” and “me-me”. Oh, I left out “baby-baby”. Of course, it was in there.

I could do it. Easy. Here’s your Beginner Biker Blues.

I got meself a helmet.
I got meself a bike.
I swear like a bandit,
A real biker, like.

No?

OK, another try. The Advanced Biker Ballad, sang to his “back warmer” (this is a biker term for a girlfriend).

I dreamt a scary dream, my baby:
I had a head-on with a lorry.
I woke up all sweaty-beady
But that is not the whole story.

When brothers buried me proper,
They all got drunk, and you got laid, 
Next day you traded them my chopper
Asking the price I LIED I’D PAID!

I have concerns if my pun will reach its intended target though. Do ganged bikers – who love presenting themselves as gravely serious folks – have any sense of humour at all? I googled up “biker humour” and all I could find were old jokes about drivers where “driver” was replaced with “biker” (I don’t count jokes created by drivers about bikers). I failed to locate examples of any reciprocal response of the same quality.

Come to think of it, “ganged” bikers have never produced anything except CO2. They’ve invented nothing besides new ways to paint sculls on their helmets. They are not about progress or advancement that would have any value for Mankind.

In all its history, the ganged biker culture has produced nothing but crime, and deafening noise.

I’ve googled “biker art”, of course, hoping to see the creative fruits of collective freedom allegedly dispensed in limitless quantities to proud members of biker gangs.

Disappointing.

David Munn, their topmost achievement, almost a saint among them, is the author of these Neanderthal icons with juicy bums and shiny bikes.

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Why are bikers so fixated on female bums? Is it a side-effect of humping a rumbling engine for hours on end? Or is it a by-product of too much pimping?

I’ve heard an opinion that these “brotherhoods” are friendly-spirited unions of alienated, but otherwise good-natured urban men, who love to slap each other on the back and to party at exotic locations.

They do a lot of slapping, that’s true.

This is how they describe their party on the beautiful Garda lake in Italy (comes from their blog, all spelling errors properly copyrighted):

“The venue was directly at the Garda Lake, a party with oldschool style. The event was hosted by the chapter Meran and the brothers did a great job.

Because of the position it needed nothing more then a teint, drinks and nice italian food. The brothers behind the bars filled the longdrinks with much alcohol and the beer was icecold and tasty.

Late at evening a girl was dancing between the tables and little by little she throw away her clothes. All visitors were full of atmosphere and enjoyed the time.

The special feature of this party was that prevalent brothers with there Ol`Ladies took part and they spent a few days of vacation together.

All will come back next year.”

Isn’t it almost as exciting as watching a colony of slipper animancule growing its numbers? “Brothers behind the bars” is the only thing linguistically disturbing.

Perhaps, I’ve fallen victim to the public cliche view of OMG members (organised motobike gangs, just sharing the acronym with Oh My God). If you know examples of biker art that surpasses Mr Munn’s iconography, please let me know.

 

On a second thought, if your summer plans included a stay at the Garda lake, you may want to reconsider.

P.S. I know this post is a strange mix of childhood dreams, minibar contents, overheard conversations, music, and a bit of what some people call biker art. This is what happens when a post is written little-by-little over five days of a vacation week somewhat ruined by the rumble of motors.

Ghirlandaio vs. Signorelli: fighting on the floor

Terry Pratchett, whose dislike of cyclists may not be as famous as his books, but just as comical, once said that his dream vacation was immunity from prosecution, a trip to Amsterdam, and a baseball bat. I have to admit I briefly entertained a similar idea while driving in Florence, with scooterists performing impossible maneuvers in front of my car, like insects intent on driving a lake bather mad by swarming all over his body.

Even as I was walking the streets of the Renaissance city, I couldn’t stop thinking of the need to drive back to Tuscany coast: these scooters did look like giant locusts waiting for the rush-hour Apocalypse. Waiting for me to get into my car.

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I had to remind myself that no scooters should break the resolve of an art lover on a mission.

My mission was to take my friends on a tour of Brancacci chapel (Masaccio’s frescoes) and Medici Ricardi Palace (Benozzo Gozzoli’s Magi). It was Wednesday, the 16th of July. I didn’t know that Medici Palace was closed on Wednesdays, and Brancacci chapel was closed on particularly the 16th of July for reasons explained in Italian, and hence unknown to me. That’s bad luck for you: once in a year you come to Florence and the two places you want to visit are miraculously inaccessible. Wednesday, the 16th is the new Friday, the 13th.

At least Santa Maria Novella was open and I could take a few pics that I needed for this post.


Previously (scan this article if you missed it, for better understanding of the difference between the two Renaissance masters), I talked of the way Ghirlandaio and Signorelli were treating colour and conflict in their work. To sum up, Ghirlandaio was a decorative artist committed to pleasing the observer, and Signorelli was a painter who wanted to make his audiences experience an emotional turmoil via a conflict that he created through clashes of “opposite”, or complimentary, and cold vs. warm colours.

Signorelli was more than just a colour experimenter. To understand his revolutionary idea of colour, we’ll get down to the floor, and the first floor we’d get down to would be that of his more successful rival, Domenico Ghirlandaio.

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Ghirlandaio, Fragment

Ghirlandaio, Fragments from frescoes

These are a few examples of Ghirlandaio’s floors from the fortunately open Santa Maria Novella, a Dominican church just across from the railway station. It is famous for Masaccio’s Trinity, Filippino Lippi’s frescoes, and the central Tornabuoni chapel done by Ghirlandaio at the time when 13 y.o. Michelangelo was his apprentice, and could have a hand in at least something. It is now a part of a monastery that could raise a lot of money by offering backside massage to tourists who twisted their necks looking up the walls and ceilings.

The floors are very colourful and decorative, especially the in-laid steps and tiles. Colours are often chosen to rhyme with the clothes of characters:

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It is like the exact match between the bag & shoes colour in fashion that is often seen as too stylish to be a reflection of the authentic taste.  Victoria Beckham can tell you all about it.

Signorelli made colourful floors too, but in a very different way. The only problem is that there are no free images of Signorelli’s paintings that I could use to illustrate it properly. Photography inside Volterra’s Pinacoteca is strictly forbidden, and those images that are available online show wrong colours. So, you’d have to take my word for it:

Luca Signorelli, Annunciazione, 1491

Luca Signorelli, Annunciazione, 1491

This full image shows all the wrong colours, but fortunately I could find a better image of an important fragment of this panel:

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Signorelli’s main colour conflict was happening on the floor: all the colours that he used in his painting, the whole palette is there. All the colours that he juxtaposes to create Biblical conflicts inside his painting flow down to the earthly floor, where they get mixed into whirlwind patterns, the patterns mortal humans are experiencing in their daily life.

Some 400 hundred years later, van Gogh was doing the same, in the eye of his portraits:

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St.Art, please help me understand

St.Art is the patron saint of street art who, as any proper saint should be, was brutally white-washed from the face of the Earth by a careless municipal worker. Very few street artists show proper respect towards the saint. This is why there are very few good street artists out there.

I am sure this Florentine street artist is a believer, for there’s something contradictory captivating in his work about Ascension, Love, and Exit, which does seem to me very religious, even though I am confused about its meaning.

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I love you, so I leave you?

Love helps one to ascend from the mundane face of the Earth?

One can’t exit Love, one can only plunge down from it?

Love helps one to escape from prison?

What did the artist want to say? Any ideas? What’s your take on it?

P.S. Many confuse St.Art with St.Ar, the patron saint of people who follow celebrities on Twitter and read gossip magazines believing them to be the new Gospel. They are two very different saints: once you start a mural, always pronounce your “t’s” clearly when sending up a prayer. You may end up compulsively buying Prada shoes otherwise.

 

Maximum security restaurant

In summer, Tuscan towns are all the same: any one of them can give you a heat-stroke in no time. Their palazzos facing piazzas, tiled roofs casting futile shadows down the narrow gorges of cobbled streets, faded clothes drying on lines crisscrossing the sky as if it needed mending – all seem to come off a giant 3D copier of the celestial workshop.

No one needs another few hundred files of those few dozen types of Tuscany views. Yet, it is impossible to resist taking your very own picture of your own special view of a Tuscan town.

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What is really different, is the history of these towns, reflected in the art they’ve managed to hold on to, despite the best efforts of the Uffizi Gallery and overseas collectors.

We are visiting Volterra today, a town with history dating back 3000 years. Ironically, it got global fame only recently, with the author of the Twilight series making Volterra the headquarters of the oldest tribe of vampires. If you ever need an example of how good come out of bad, especially out of bad literature, this is it.

The Volturi vampires, the most stylish band of bloodsuckers out there, I guess

The Volturi vampires, the most stylish band of bloodsuckers out there, I guess

But even the Twilight fame failed to make the town a tourist mecca: it is so much off the main routes that its book stores and gallery shops do not care to carry English-language catalogues or albums (other languages do not seem to be known to exist at all).

This is sad, for the town has at least six artistic jewels that could whet an art-lover’s appetite, besides the unique attraction of a gourmet restaurant in the maximum security prison housed in Volterra’s impregnable 15th century castle, offering a Michellin-worthy menu for the especially hungy.

Being served by thugs, and entertained by a pianist who’s doing life for murder must be an unforgettable experience which I can’t share with you because I didn’t go there. The restaurant requires very advance booking to allow for background security checks on prospective visitors. Security measures at the entrance are rumoured to surpass anything you might have encountered at Israeli airports.

Don’t despair though: items on the art menu in Volterra are good for a wholesome lunch and dinner too.

The local Pinacoteca has two Luca Signorellis and one Domenico Ghirlandaio that are be best seen in comparison to each other, especially the ones they painted a year apart:

LEFT: Luca Signorelli, Virgin Enthroned with Saintsm 1491 RIGHT: Domenico Ghirlandaio, Christ in Glory with Saints Benedict, Romuald, Attinea, Grecinana and the commissioner Fra’ Giusto di Gherardo de’ Buonvicinim 1492

The two painters were of the same age, educated by the same artistic standards and exposed to similar ideas during their youth.  Yet, they evolved into very different painters, symbolically embodying the two lines of Renaissance: the decorative and the humanistic. These two paintings, that intercept them both at the same trajectory point, provide a great insight into Quattrocento ideas.

Ghirlandaio stood for the decorative line, with its childlike interest in beauty to be found in nature, and made by men; and Signorelli signed up for the humanistic party which was putting Man’s heroic nature in the focus of its artistic exploration and expression.

Ghirlandaio made his composition look like a classical temple (something that had been invented long before him), with two saints serving as columns and the Saviour positioned in the pediment.

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The Benedictine monk, who commissioned the painting (which was paid for by Lorenzo di Medici), is shown in the bottom right corner, as if he is about to enter the shrine.

One should come in reverently, and the genuflecting figures provide the model of behaviour, as well as leave an opening through which one may enter.

The knife between them (which was perhaps the weapon that killed one of the two female saints) explicitly shows the way:

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The idealised landscape is the promised land, an earthly version of the celestial Paradise reachable if people organise their lives according to the Christian principles.

All the colours and forms in this painting are nicely balanced to provide the feeling of emotional security for the believer. There’s no conflict, no heroism, no decisions to be taken. Repent, kneel, and don’t be afraid of dying.

Ghirlandaio didn’t become the leading painter in Florence, with the largest workshop attracting the best of the best (including Michelangelo, who was expropriated by Lorenzo the Magnificent a year before), for nothing. Decorative artists, at least during their lifetime, have always been more successful than their counterparts presenting conflict and drama in their work.

The less successful counterpart, in this case, is Luca Signorelli. He travelled Italy a lot, but in 1491, when this panel was made, he was in Florence, doing sundry jobs for the same Lorenzo the Magnificent.

A simple comparison of how the red cloaks are painted shows the difference between him and Ghirlandaio:

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Signorelli creates a colour drama with each fold: a conflict between black and red. Ghirlandaio uses basically the same colour, occasionally adding an embroidered hem to boost up visual pleasure.

Signorelli (borrowing much from Flemish painters), creates a whirlwind of colours taken from the opposite ends of the colour wheel: green vs. red, blue vs. orange, purple vs. yellow, and organises them in a way that makes the eye wander through these multiple clashes in straight or circled lines. You may also reflect on the thematic difference of the two paintings: Ghirlandaio’s Savior is already high up in the sky, promising salvation, while Signorelli’s Virgin and Child are at the start of the way full of misery and pain.

I’ve traced just some of the colour directions (it is a nightmare to do on a notebook), and I am sure you can enjoy the conflict of blues vs. orange golds without any aid.

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There’s no movement in the poses of the figures, everyone is serene and solemn, but there’s a lot of movement in the eye of the beholder. Is this colour solution a perfect one? No. The left side is much “heavier” than the right, because the artist used “cold” colours that are associated with heavy mass there and the red robe on the right side does not balance out the lighter right side, which makes the whole panel tilt a bit to the left.

Is this a flaw? Perhaps it is, but the artist wanted to kick the observer out of his equilibrium state, the artist was looking for creative ways to do it, and I think the overall impact of Signorelli’s work is much stronger than the Saviour of Ghirlandaio. Another serene promise of Paradise is not  something that can make a believer change his ways. Signorelli wanted to punch people, and, given that his compositions were pretty much canonised or predetermined by commissioners, he was experimenting with colour to reach his objective.

This is why I believe Signorelli is quite underestimated as one of the first true colourists of the Renaissance. He was not a genius, but he was bold enough to make first steps in finding ways to use colour as a means to stir souls.

There’s something else I want to show you from Volterra, but I’ll save it for later. I don’t have a pic of the prison restaurant, but I have the prison tower here:

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And while I am writing a post of yet another panel from the local Pinacoteca, street musicians provide somewhat irreverent entertainment by singing songs about Commandante Che:

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…while ancient lions and swans are watching them with the condescension of someone who’ve seen rebels turn into bourgeoisie at least a dozen times per any given century:

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I’m here about the “Igor Wanted” ad

It is very nice when your favourite “historical nineteenth century” hotel in a lake-side Swiss town adds a Russian receptionist to its crew, who greats you with the multi-syllable “Dobro Pozhalovat’” instead of a curt “welcome”.

This is the hotel, If you look for a set to film a murder in a hotel, that's your best find: it has four floors and no safety net.

This is the hotel, If you look for a set to film a murder in a hotel, that’s your best find: it has four floors and no safety net.

It gets weird when he enthusiastically continues in English for the benefit of everyone in the group, “I’ll be helping you viz all your needs and vonts. If you need anyzzing, just call me, and I vill give you a hand! My name is Igor”.

A hump-sporting, lisping Igor servant is considered a must-have for any serious mad scientist who dabbles in raising people from the dead with controlled lightning and Lego-kind surgery, so when a thunderstorm descends upon the lake this very evening, with proper showers, piloerectile lightning ripping the sky, and white boats bobbing up and down on the waves, you do expect Igor to knock on the door. With someone else’s hand.

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Nothing can prepare one for a blues night out better than that. Buddy Guy’s getting off stage, down to the crowd of fans and playing god with his guitar in the midst of the auditorium seems only natural in the surreal world of the Montreux Festival.

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The next day you take a pic of Chillon Castle and suddenly the warning sign, put there by a concerned Igor, gets a new, sinister meaning.

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Lord Byron touched it, you know. He scratched “Byron” on one of the columns in the castle’s cellar. He didn’t live long after that.

This artless post is an announcement that I am on vacation now, with Italy being the next stop. Stay tuned, for there’s going to be a lot of art along the way.

P.S. In case you didn’t know: “piloerectile” is an adjective derived  from “piloerection”, which is a cultural way to say “goose bumps”. Goose bumps raise hair on one’s body into an erect position, and “pilo-“ is Greek for hair. This reflex helped our ancestors to look bigger in the eyes of larger animals that were scaring them s**tless. Our survival is a proof the trick must have been working at the time. Guns made it an unnecessary rudiment, good only for the second line after your preferred pick-up opener, “You’re so beautiful (I am so happy to see you) you give me piloerection”. I am afraid only men can use it, and only with caution (make sure “pilo” is clearly pronounced), and even if it raises an interested eyebrow, it is still pretty dumb.  

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Doodling is dreaming

lascaux2Narcotic substances were responsible for the emergence of doodles. At least, one of the recent theories says so. Prehistoric cavemen were getting high on fumes from their own fires and had recurring visions of animals running over cave ceilings and walls. Those cave people didn’t get to see much besides animals in their lifetime, so animals were a natural feature of their dreams. The first drawing was a mere charcoal trace of one of the animal silhouettes they hallucinated up the wall.

When I was a kid I loved drawing tanks that were shooting away their deadly shells, and horsemen, fiercely waving their swords, because those were the images Soviet television was bombarding me with from dawn till dusk. I didn’t hallucinate any battles, but I dreamed of fighting enemies of the USSR. Some twenty years later, I was greatly disappointed to learn the USSR had been its own greatest enemy for most of its later history.

I also dreamed of becoming an astronaut but my hand was better at tanks than spaceships.

Great doodling is about dreaming, even though no drugs are involved nowadays (I mean kids). That’s why psychologists love to interpret children’s drawings.

No one can stop kids dreaming, and no one can pull the plug on their drawing.

Kids get down to drawing right where and when they start dreaming, be it wall paper or floor boards. Most of their artworks get destroyed by angry parents who can’t understand why their daughters and sons could not use proper paper. Because paper was ten feet away from the place where and when the dream “happened”, that’s why.

The Gruyère Castle (Switzerland) offers its visitors a rare insight into the world of a Medieval princess through a few remaining wall etchings that are preserved there. This young lady of high status, who lived at the end of the 16th century, was not so much different from modern girls. She was dreaming about princes, and princesses riding horses to meet their princes.

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The prince is quite nicely drawn, but my favourite is the lady riding a horse, below. Both share the same kind of royal grace (the kind that you find only in Hollywood movies about royals).

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The graffiti is protected by cheap plastic, and I am sorry for the reflections. The princess was immortalising her dreams next to the window with a view that shouts “romantic” through each of its hexagonal cells:

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The princess was most likely married off to a guy she didn’t know before the wedding, who was much older, with a foul personality matching the smell from his mouth. Middle ages were middle ages, after all.

I didn’t become a tank commander.

Did you live up to the dreams in your doodles? 

Does sex sell?

When it comes to the beauty of a female body, many painters say the key to success in winning the battle against photography is nakedness, eroticism, and sex seasoned with glamour. Art galleries are jam-packed with paintings and collages celebrating fast cars, full lips, cup D size breasts. This desperate idea (that pornography can beat photography) is substantiated by the claim that while a photographed nude can sell only if it was signed by Helmut Newton, a painted nude is Art regardless of who painted it, so it can be sold to anyone not allergic to paint chemicals.

I could agree with this opinion, with a one-word reservation. It is the key to success for bad artists.

A good artist does not have to paint a naked body to send his male audience into blissful contemplation culminating in cash transactions. On the contrary, men have been intimidated into believing their interest in nakedness is immoral, and even a greatly executed nude (unless it was signed by Lucien Freud) is likely to be collecting dust in the gallery’s storeroom.

I don’t blame feminism for this depreciation of the Reclining Nude (even when she’s not actually reclining). Art critics have done more harm to the genre than all the feminists combined.

John Berger, one of the most influential art critics and thinkers (most BBC presenters tend to become icons at some point) should be the prime suspect in the dock for discrediting the beauty of a naked woman. He never hesitated to cut and then interpret artworks to fit his marxist theories.

In his book Ways of Seeing, he used the head of Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque as a proof that the glamorous pin-up culture of the 1970s (very modern at the time) was keeping up with the quincentenary tradition of showcasing nudes for the carnal pleasures of male observers: he wrote that both pics were showing women posing “with calculated charm to the man whom she imagines looking at her—although she doesn’t know him”.

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Illustration from Ways of Seeing by John Berger

Poor Ingres must have turned in his grave the moment the book was published.

The Odalisque, in its full form, is detached from the viewer by smoking whatever substance she was enjoying before Louvre visitors started taking pics in front of her.

Source. I am happy for the girl in the photo, for if she likes this painting, she'd never become a hardline feminist.

I am happy for the beautiful girl in the photo, for if she likes this painting, she’d never become a hardline feminist who contemplates art history through the black lens of “unjust male dominance”.

Her half-turned head shows a moment’s distraction, not full attention. I mean the Odalisque’s head.

You, the observer, might have stirred her curiosity. Not because you’re a man she doesn’t know and wants to charm. There’s only one man who can take her, and it is her sultan. Are you the sultan? Are you a sultan? No? Well then you must be one of the eunuchs, because if you are not, you are very likely to become one sooner than you can prove yourself to be a true gentleman by saying, “Oh, excuse me, sir, I must have dropped my spectacles somewhere around here”.

A French mind of the 19th century saw an Odalisque as a beauty one can only enjoy at a distance, but can never enjoy physically. Of course artists were exploiting this theme to create titillating erotic images that would sell like fresh baguettes at the time, but Ingres was not one of them. He wouldn’t distort the woman’s body as much as he did (adding three vertebrae at the bottom), were he intent on creating cheap thrills for his viewers.

But even if we assume that she was painted as a courtesan in odalisque disguise, we can’t say she’s looking back with calculated charm. She is so damn used to men looking at her body that she doesn’t care about “looks” anymore. Show me the money first. We’d talk seductive looks later.

I can offer Mr Berger a much better head and body. The Russian Alternative, if you want, even though art historians may argue that Leon Bakst spent more of his “productive” time in France than in Russia and is, therefore, a French artist. The lady, to whom you are about to be introduced, is also a perfect example of the Dressed Nude: a sexually arousing image without a single naked body.

This is the head of the woman from Leon Bakst’s painting, “The Dinner” of 1902.

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Bakst’s lady, just like the girl in the photograph, challenges the viewer with direct and intense eye-to-eye contact.

Bakst’s lady has more clothes on. And yet, she’s much more seductive, especially if we look at the full picture. A good artist doesn’t just give you a sexy body to gawk at: he offers you the beginning of a story for which you can create your own climax.

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Some observers fail to immediately notice a vacant chair at the bottom; along with the fact that the table is set for one more person. The inattentive blame the busy top half of the painting. It is not so much busy as distracting. It is about blunt flirtation with the eyes and the smile, and undisguised seduction with a push-up bra, which makes her breasts rhyme with the voluminous oranges. Those oranges beg to be taken. The breast-orange pun is obviously intended: her outstretched arms become a visual aid for those, whose observation power is paralysed by the low neck of her dress.

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The folded fan in her hand is something that could make Freud’s bogey go boogie with excitement (it’s Zigmund this time).

I first wondered why Bakst chose oranges over apples that are instantly associated with sin, sexuality, and temptation.

No. That would be trite.

Comparison of apples to breasts was so common in art history, it became a bad-taste cliché when Cranach the Elder passed the torch to Cranach the Younger. Bakst must have opted for oranges, because he wanted to exclude the Adam-Eve associations (the flower of the lady’s innocence had been bruised long before she was seen dining, and the observer doesn’t look like an embarrassed Adam either), and because apples are consumed as is, while an orange has to be peeled first. I don’t have to add, “just like the lady in question”, but here you are, I said it.

And yet, were the idea here limited to a direct juxtaposition of oranges and breasts, the painting would slide down to a banal poem of two lines rhyming “bosom” and “awesome”.

Bakst’s Dinner (1908) goes beyond the trite two-liner, quadrupling it into a full-blown promise of sex.

Quadrants4Note how the lower parts of her figure are partially obstructed by layers of table cloth that is painted just like the skin of an orange. The artist indeed mixes orange with ochre to paint the stripe separating the vacant seat and the woman.

To cut the long story short:

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The famous marketing model (today seen as outdated) that describes the workings of advertising as AIDA (awareness, interest, desire, action) was introduced by a US guy a few years before this painting was completed, and I seriously doubt the painter was aware of it. Yet, he came up with basically the same model.

This painting is a great example of creating an involving sex-story without showing any nudes. Bakst could go with a high-neck gown without rendering the picture less sensuous.

PS The small detail I also like about this painting is that the face is done in somewhat “mute” manner. It is not detailed, or specific, or exact and leaves space for imagination: the observer himself can “paint” the blueprint of the face the artist gives us in a variety of ways. 

PPS Having visited an amazing exhibition of Renoir in Martigni today, I feel it’s time to talk more about nude paintings, tracing the genre’s history from Giorgione to Ingres, Renoir, Degas and beyond. It is time to win back the Nude genre.