In art, just as in life, ability to create a strong first impression is often the only way to secure a second glance. Because, as Robert Hughes famously noted, full contemplation speed is 30 seconds per masterpiece.
On my recent visit to my favourite art dealer, she took out two female portraits by Dynnikov that turned out to be, actually, four. The artist was so destitute during his lifetime that he often used both sides of his canvases. I wrote about Victor Dynnikov before, covering his still lifes, his flowers with women, animals, and even philosophical musings about life and death.
The 2 double-sided paintings represent four very different characters…
In simple, misogynist terms, it can be reduced to a few simple recommendations or commands (men are from the militaristic Mars, so commands are best):
The reality about these girls can very different, I suppose. The “Run!” girl, having wiped off her blood-red lipstick, can become a most caring wife; the “Marry” girl can turn out to be a ruthless boss, et cetera.
For a moment I thought that the girl at the back of each portrait was an alter ego version of the girl at the front.
As I am a man, my take on the portraits might have been biased by my gender. Is it the same for women? Is it different for other men? Tell me how you see them!
These girls can’t be identified beyond their names now, but what a journey it could be to find out what they have become!
The power of these portraits is that they give the observer an immediate strong impression of the personality of the portrayed woman – and it is this initial punch that makes the observer interested in discovering more.
That power comes from their eyes, the tilt and turn of their heads, their hair, accessories, and clothes, but the background also plays a role.
Here’s a bulleted list of artistic devices for one of the portraits: it’s front and back side.
The Girl to Marry
- Absence of strong contrasts makes the painting “tender”
- Orange reflections on the edges (face, shoulder) imply there’s more to the character than just “tenderness” and “softness”. Orange also adds “warmth” to “tenderness”.
- She appears as if coming around a corner or opening a door, which makes her “sudden”: she just came out to the observer, and so the observer must react, not just watch her, must engage with her.
- She tilts her head as if she’s ready to listen, as if she’s in expectation of the observer’s reaction. This, as well as the angle of her entry. is accentuated by the collar of her blouse: it is very tidy and symmetrical. So, the collar also tells you she’s very organised and attentive to detail.
So, my dear observer, don’t make a mistake. She’s watching you as much as you’re watching her, except that she’s watching you without prejudice or judgement. Her gaze may not be piercing, but she’s taking you in, seeing the real you with her huge blue eyes.
Somehow, It is both mesmerising and unnerving.
The GIrl to Bed
- Her cold blue eyes nail down the observer, and if that doesn’t happen the observer must see his nearest oculist at once.
- The red band holding her hair is like a theatre gun that must fire at some point if it’s taken onto the set. Just imagine the passionate moment when she tears the ribbon off, and her hair cascade down on her shoulders.
- She wears a robe that doesn’t seem to have any zippers or buttons. I don’t have to spell it all out.
- The background is passionate red, with a dark burgundy area to the left of her that implies it is not going to be all red, passionate, and easy. The observer is given a trade-off: surrender to those blue eyes, and full lips and face some dark consequences or apologise, and run before it’s too late.
Now you can exercise your art appreciation skills and think what makes the other portrait interesting (click on the images below to get a bigger version):