Monthly Archives: November 2012

Warrior Women & Gender Representation Inside My Art Work

Queen Boudicca  Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

I’ve never been fully convinced of conservative social convections on femininity and how women should be passive, subservient and domesticated. My mother is the strongest woman I know and so I while I spent most of time growing up around my father and brother (whom each possess more than their fair share of “Alpha Male Ego”) there was and still is a strong feminine presence in my life.

For me, there has always been a fascination with the female warrior figure. I learned early in life that even though woman can appear demure and ladylike; under that veneer there is more likely than not; a core of iron. And there is a lot to admire and respect among strong feminine archetypes. Examples of strong historical female warriors include Artemisia I of Caria, Tomoe Gozen, Fù Hǎo, Joan of Arc and the ferocious celtic queen Boudicca. And despite coming from a fictional source, the positive influence garnered also from stories from folklore, novels and movies are undeniable. I think there’s a reverence in the strength of women; all kinds of them. Whether a fictional heroine, or capricious Goddess of myth and legend or a modern day female politician standing up against misogyny in male dominated parliament; women are strong and while not necessary of the physical sort, strength and honor is not exclusive to men.

The Crimson Lotus is In Bloom (2009)

“I was never deceived by Chinese women, not even by the flower-like lovely girls. They are the strongest women in the world. Seeming always to yield, they never yield. Their men are weak beside them. Whence comes this female strength? It is the strength that centuries have given them, the strength of the unwanted.” 

– From Letter from Peking by Pearl S. Buck, 1957 (1)

In continuation to the subject of Gender Representation in the Arts I would like to take a piece of artwork that I had painted as a object of study. I chose my own painting for this experiment largely due to an interest in dissecting my own artistic psyche and I would also like to look at my painting with a fresh perspective as it was after all, completed three years age. It is a digital painting titled The Crimson Lotus is in Bloom and it features a female character I created named Ren which is the Japanese translation of lián (蓮) meaning lotus (2).

I’ve chosen this particular painting as an example to represent an expansion of the lecture’s theme because it explores the concepts of gender identity and androgyny. It depicts a human subject who is certainly female yet also possesses certain qualities that give her undefinably masculine and feminine characteristics. I wanted to paint a character who appeared young. deeply stricken but very strong. Despite the lack of expression on her face, there would be intensity in her eyes that would identify her as a strong person despite the physical evidence of violence that she carries along with an armful of lotus blossoms.

As the artist who painted Ren, I know her history, character and motivations intimately and so I painted her with the intention exposing her inner character and not her body. Whilst the majority of her physical nudity is concealed by the delicate lotus blossoms she is nude in the sense that it is her soul that is exposed. Every element in the painting from the her scars to the clinical background was chosen to represent Ren’s personality and state of mind. The predominantly green color palette represents nature, regeneration, honor, virtue and beauty (3) and the splashes of blood (that may or may not belong to Ren) in crimson red to bring her inner violence and her rage into context. It is meant to be a portrait and she appears nude and is carrying an armful of flowers. Her posing is a satirical approach to what is employed in traditionally demure portraiture and the lotus flowers, while also symbolising purity are mainly passive objects that absorb the color and mood of their surrounding environment. They are the symbols of Ren’s gentle womanly nature that is still a part of who she is.

In the case of scopophilia, Ren appears to be a prisoner in the portrait and is both the object being consumed but also the one consuming, in this case either the actual viewer themselves or an unseen character/s inside the world of the painting. It is possible that Ren is gazing at her own reflection thereby consuming herself. Whoever she is consuming with her stare, she remains stoic but defiant and vengeful too.

Ren is striking and beautiful but she is not an object of desire and yet she is also not an object of horror to soothe Freud’s castration anxiety by giving the male viewer a female object to conquer either. Her androgynous features are meant to offset and confuse the traditional norms of female beauty and to perhaps lead a male viewer into a sense of security. What they see is a figure who defies the gender binary system and hence traditional gender norms in not clearly definable in this case as Ren cannot be fit into a comfortable gender role. She is a rare creature and she is absolutely her own person. A woman warrior and Alpha female who will not sacrifice any part of her honor and integrity. She apologizes to no one and is prepared to retaliate in violence in order to protect herself and those that are under her protection.

But it is a very rare woman to be taken for who she truly is. And I would like to conclude that while I may be ambitious in my attempt in portraying my vision of a idealistic woman warrior whether I succeeded or not is entirely subjective to whomever is studying this piece of work.

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Freud Said That Women Are All Chicks With Penis Envy?

“Women never bought Freud’s idea of penis envy: who would want a shotgun when you can have an automatic?”
― Natalie Angier,  Woman: An Intimate Geography (2000)

Image Source: Copyright Adamanska

When I first read about Sigmund Freud’s theory of Penis Envy in a woman’s girlhood psychosexual development, it caused a lot of feminine outrage in me. In The Sexual Theories of Children (1908c), Freud theorises that when the little girl realizes that unlike her brother she does not possess an external set of genitalia she decides (albeit subconsciously) that she would rather be a boy ie. penis envy. And this envy is stemmed not on the situation of boys in general, but on the possession of the male sexual organ in itself. The girl reproaches her mother with not having given her one and turns away from her to take the father as a object of love and desire. The desire for a penis is replaced by the desire for a child by the father which eventually is carried over into a wish to have a baby, and it may find expression in the act of giving birth to a baby (especially a boy).

I don’t agree with Freud’s theory but I have to admit that I do envy the male penis – not the appendage – but the power, the ease, the advantages that comes with being male. Men don’t have to choose their careers over their children. And as much as the feminist movement has changed society and as much as women have been liberated, we continue to subscribe to many ancient notions of what it means to be male and female. The penis continues to award men with ambition and drive, and women, because they lack the symbol of masculine power, continue to live as second to men.

Freud was a man made from the patriarchal culture in which he lived and his theories on the feminine mind and how he considered women to be inferior to men is now often dismissed as misogynistic and outdated. And for all the controversy and debate his ‘studies’ and theories caused, eventually even Freud himself admitted that his understanding of women was limited.

“The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?'”
-From Sigmund Freud: Life and Work by Ernest Jones, 1953 (1)

Well, I’m a woman myself and even I have to admit I often find the nature of the feminine logic to be in turns either exasperating or amusing. Maybe what Freud just couldn’t figure out for certain was how women can get away with not stating what they want in exact terms yet somehow reserve the right to get angry when they don’t get it.  And through an unknown universal loophole; this anger is completely justified.

But that perhaps is what makes us so fascinating. And not a little bit scary.

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Narrative of (500) Days Of Summer


Image Source and Copyright: Churchx

Focusing on the narration of the movie (500) Days of Summer from 2009 which is told in a non-linear narrative in other words the film events are portrayed out of chronological order.

People are drawn to a good story, and I am no different. Whether fictional or biographical, stories have and always will be a part of what has shaped my life. I think that half of what makes a story engaging is how it is told and it is my belief that what the audience perceives about a story or narrative is directly influenced by what the artist, writer or director comprehends and how they choose to present that understanding.

(500) Days of Summer is as the poster states; a story about love and not a love story. It’s the story of Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon Levitt) who believes in true love and when Tom meets Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) he thinks he has found his soulmate. But while Summer likes him perfectly sincerely, she does not share the same views on love and is not looking for commitment. Ultimately, she breaks his heart and he is left baffled.

Image Copyright: Imaginaryforces

Image Source: drunkonfame

When the numbers of the days in the relationship are shown, the coloring and “mood” of the background art change to reflect the status of the relationship. Good days are brighter and bad days are darker.

The movie narrates of the chapter of time in which Summer is in Tom’s life and is told from his perspective. Their romance and subsequent breakup is revealed through a non-linear narrative segmented time fragments, jumping from different days in the past or present as we follow Tom’s memories during the high and lows of his relationship with Summer.

The non-linear narrative dismisses the atypical Freytag 5 part (dramatic arc, exposition, rising action climax and dénouement) structure of storytelling a drama and utilizes its kaleidoscopic time structure as an appropriate tool to tell Tom’s story. As human memories are seldom recalled in chronological order, especially when it concerns a failed romance and the person in question is going back over the course of the relationship and looking for those first signs of the end that they’d missed when it was happening. They start near the end, and then hop around between the times that were good and the times that left pain.

Image Source: thewhitesade.com

Another use of camerawork I was really impressed with was when Tom meets up with Summer again a few months after their breakup. A split screen is used in this sequence to show his Expectations and the Reality of what actually happened. The viewer is shown first hand the variants between reality versus Tom’s expectations as well the disappointment he is ultimately subjected to at the end of the scene. There is no dialog during the entire sequence and the subtlety was sublime and very effective in portraying how how often a person’s reality doesn’t line up with how they play things out in their mind.

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Graphic Design: Alfons Maria Mucha

I’m sure I’m not alone in my love for Alfons Mucha’s paintings, illustrations, advertisements, postcards, and designs in the decorative arts. His use of ornamentation and bordering is what makes his work so easily recognizable and so inspirational. None of his works are exactly the same, but they all carry a theme, the unmistakeable mark of this particular artist. He developed his own aesthetic ideals and original style, which became the hallmark of his time and was also known as “Mucha Style” and his work quickly becomes the essence of Art Nouveau.

Moet et Chandon (Image Source)

In 1894 Mucha’s fame skyrocketed when he  Mucha volunteered to design a poster Sarah Bernhardt’s play Gizmonda. The poster garnered much attention and much publicity for the play that it’s succes lead to his 6-year contract with the legendary actress and was tied to her rising fame. With Sarah Berndhardt as his patron, Mucha went on to design posters, stage sets, costumes and props for her plays.

Posters for Sarah Berndhart’s plays ‘La Dame aux Camelia’s‘, ‘Gizmonda‘ and ‘Medee‘ (Image Source)

As a artist and designer I am influenced by Mucha because of his ability to mix drawing and design in a functional and aesthetic way. I especially love how his works are based on a strong centered composition and symbolic themes. Each featuring graceful young female figures in sensuous or provocative poses. They possess long intertwining and vaporous hair while they are adorned in light dresses enriched by decorative ornaments inspired by nature such as beautiful jewels, flowers and willowy foliage. Functional and decorative elements including text usually frame the illustrations and the background space is filled by floral or abstract patterns.

Cigarette Job’ (1898)

While most of his commissions and fame were garnered for his work in commercial arts, he also produced an astonishing amount of drawings, pastel or watercolor studies, tempera paintings and designs for interior decorations, cutlery and dinner object, jewelry and fashion.

 

Fuchsia Necklace (1905) Made by jeweler Gorges Fouquet in opal, cabochon sapphire, pearl, and gold

Age of Love‘ (1938) (Image Source)

Illustration & Yoshitaka Amano

A year ago I was a working adult in Singaporean society. Continuing my studies into university level was the last option that was available to me and I had come to accept what I thought was my lot in life. But then comes fate, tossing the opportunity of a lifetime into my lap and a dream come true. And even though I was filled with trepidation and -to be honest- terror, walking away was not an option. This was the right time for me, even if I do not mean for it to be. I had studied animation, graphic design and illustration in college previously and had a basic understanding of the various disciplines within the Art and Communication Design industry. Since I wanted to start my studies this year, the application process had to be completed as soon as possible and I had a limited time to choose a specialisation. Eventually, after an intense thought process I chose illustration simply because it is a form of visual storytelling in which I have the most interest and I enjoy creating artwork in response to a written narrative or project brief.

Yoshitaka Amano is among one of my favorite artists and illustrators. He’s work first came to my attention through his collaboration with Neil Gaiman for the Sandman: Dream Hunters in 2000 (1) He has collaborated  with numerous writers, creating close to 20 illustrated books that have sold millions of copies and he’s most well known work are for Gatchaman, Vampire Hunter D and the Final Fantasy game series. He has done the game logo and character art for almost every instalment of the popular franchise. He was also a character designer for anime shows such as Time Bokan, Tekkaman, and Honey Bee. Amano was influenced by comic books (both Japanese and Western), psychedelic art and pop art of the West, particularly the work of American Pop artist Peter Max. He also studied the artworks of the European movement of Art Nouveau, as well as the ancient Japanese hand woodblock printing work of Ukiyo-e.

These combination of influences help to develop Amano’s distinctive style which can be described as a modern take surrealism and realism with the dynamic, undulating, and flowing lines of Art Nouveau. He’s work is striking yet subtle at once and this balancing act of color and form brings a delicacy into the illustrations. Amano’s style perfectly suits the fantasy genre and is a style that no other artist can follow or imitate. There is something so inherently “fantastic” about his use of color, contrast and landscape which coaxes the viewer and allows them to glimpse into a another world. Yoshitaka Amano’s work is inspiring and ever evolving. His ability to combine contemporary with traditional styles of art makes him a true visionary and he is without a doubt a artist that I admire greatly.

The Sandman: The Dream Hunters written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano

Additional Image Sources: (C0ver) & (The Art of Yoshitaka Amano)

Vampire Hunter D: Mysterious Journey to the North Sea (Part One) written by Hideyuki Kikuchi and illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano

Image Source: The Art of Yoshitaka Amano

Much more of Amano’s work can be viewed in this video.