Figuratively Speaking

By Veronika Janik

Lips, eyes, arms, legs, breasts, genitals, curves, shapes, lines and language. The theme of the human figure has been present in art history since the beginning of time. Artists depict facial features in portraits, sculptures, photographs and sketches. For ages, some have portrayed the beauty of the human body with nudism, while others have artistically utilized various body parts to address social and contextual issues. Whether a political statement, a social critique, a means of psychological expressionism or simply a portrayal of the exquisiteness of the physical form, the possibilities of working with the human body are infinite.

Unfortunately, our society does not provide the average individual with adequate access or information about the body as a physical, sexual and intimate object. Nudity is veiled from children, and with this blindfold comes a sentiment of the bare body as taboo.

Fortunately, with exhibitions such as the Triangle Gallery of Visual Arts’ Figuratively Speaking, individuals of all ages are able to witness the human build in all its forms and various artistic approaches to this age-old theme.

Figuratively Speaking showcases works from over 30 Canadian and International artists. This exhibition is one of the Triangle Gallery’s first major exhibitions that broadly addresses the various issues about the human figure.

The roster of artists features Canada’s Tony Scherman, Alex Colville and Renee Van Halm, America’s Andy Warhol and Frances Andre Derain and Henri Matisse, amongst others.

“The roster fits into the Triangle’s mandate quite well, which is the presentation of modern and contemporary Canadian visual art and design in the context of international art,” says Jacek Malec, Triangle Gallery Director/Curator and art history major.

Although Canadian artists do have their own artistic language and aspect of expression, artists are generally aware of the styles and trends outside of their geographical boundaries.

“The works are not created in a vacuum. There’s always interrelations between the international circles,” states Malec.

The pieces presented in the exhibition were taken from the University of Lethbridge Art Collection which holds over 15,000 works.

Exhibition pieces were created between 1912 and 1998, and offer a quick snapshot of the development of various trends and how the human figure was used.

In terms of elements, the exhibition features cubism in the works of Max Weber, Andre Derain and Stanley Brunst, who displays a truly interesting Canadian take of the European or international cubist technique.

Further styles include the German Expressionism of the 1920S and ’30S represented by Georg Grosz and Oskar Kokoschka.

“Oskar Kokoschka deals particularly with the aesthetic elements of the human form, which is evident in his Male Nude,” informs Malec.

Next there is the photo realism of Christopher Pratt, Alex Colville, and Alexandra Haeseker.

“Haeseker does a collage in a very playful, narrative way,” states Malec.

“She tells us a story about the human body of a young girl who is somehow juxtaposed against the various elements of childhood. In her work, she is talking about the innocence of childhood,” he adds.

Among all this, the exhibition contains the more classical sketches of the human figure displayed by a sketch from 1927 by artist Henry Moore.

“In the case of Moore, he uses his work to announce his future development in 3-dimensional form. The reclined figure, first in representational then in abstractive form,” informs Malec.

In comparison with the classical elements, there is a series of sculptural studies created by Ivor Abrahams, which beautifully captures the body in motion.

Other styles include the modernistic takes on the expressionistic way by French artist Raoul Dufy, decorative elements in the works of Henri Matisse, displays of pop art by Andy Warhol, photography by Robert Mapplethorpe and the new expressionism of Karel Appel, Angela Grossmann, Sandra Meigs and Tony Scherman.

“Tony Scherman, who is a Canadian artist, was very much influenced by Francis Bacon, who looked at the object of the human body in a more satirical or grotesque way,” states Malec.

“So when you look at the guy in Scherman’s drawing, you ask yourself ‘would I date him?’ But at the same time Scherman is talking about what constitutes beauty. He talks about the ambiguity of beauty. He talks about the person who shows age. His body is plump and disproportionate, yet in it he says ‘okay I am still a human being regardless of my physical limitations’,” adds Malec.

With the wide range of styles and techniques, this exhibition presents an opportunity for individuals to see the works of some of the world’s most famous artists, without traveling overseas. Malec hopes the display will promote the positive aspects of viewing the physical human body rather than prohibit it.

“We are not going to place a warning sign that there is nudity; viewer discretion is advised. In the history of art, from the prehistoric time to the contemporary, nudity and the beauty of the human body has been present, so why cover this or give it special warning?,” he says.

Malec encourages students to view the classical exhibition, as it is very relevant to the art history and the visual arts curricula.

In addition, supporting the gallery and its display aids in the expansion of Calgary’s art culture.

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