Last week myself and Grace Oni Smith, visited Manchester Art Gallery to view some of the Pre-Raphaelite works there in preparation for the new art piece based on her. (find out about this spectacular lady in my last post: New art project: A date with Grace)
More specifically, we went to perv at the lovely Pre-Raphaelite models who take pride of place in many of the paintings. These lovely gals are to be the inspiration for my portrait of Grace, a stunning transgender woman who put me in mind of the Victorian pin ups; Something about Grace was niggling me for ages after I first met her. Then weeks later while waiting for the bus it hit me. Not the bus....a thought! Grace reminds me of Jane Morris. She is tall and willowy with strong features and dark hair. Was it the shape of her nose, the placement of her lips? I'm not sure but that similarity fueled my ideas and now here we are staring dreamily at Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Bower Meadow.
Detail from the Bower Meadow
'Look at her nose!' Grace said running a well manicured finger down her own work of art, her newly refurbished schnoz (not long tweaked by a nose job). 'It's me!'. It's true, looking at any of the Pre-Raphaelite girls especially Rossetti's, it's easy to find elements that ring true with Grace's features.
Pre nose job, Grace is still reminiscent of a Pre-Raphaelite stunner!
The Victorian models were painted as ideals of femininity. Yet it's interesting to note many of the women who found acclaim through their modelling were originally a bit, how can I put it, odd looking for the fashions of the time. It was the artists' vision and ideas which helped to open society's mind and soon had the art crowd knocking down the doors to celebrate these unique women.
Far from claiming that vision as my own I want to use the Pre-Raphaelite ideal as a platform to air Grace's story and challenge our society's views on femininity. Using two of my favourite things artifice and theatrics I want to stage a Pre-Raphaelite style scene with Grace as the icon and muse.
Lots of things need to be taken into consideration for this piece: Story, styling, symbolism, pose and paint technique to name but a few. But during our visit to the gallery, Grace and I were most involved in looking at the details in the paintings; the beautiful way hands and shoulders were showcased; the models never really revealing much but still oozing sensuality and fierce femininity.
Joli Coeur by Dante Gabriel Rossetti is one of the paintings we went to see at Manchester Art Gallery. This small and intimate picture has pin up girl written all over it! Looking like she just threw her jacket on to open the front door to the milkman this minx embodies the Pre-Raphaelite style. Her decolletage hands and wrists are the only flesh on show heightening the eroticism of her pose and expression.
Words which Grace and I used to describe the feel and look of these paintings included:
Lit from within...
Certainly when looking at works such as Vivien by Frederick Sandys you get a feeling this lady is lit from within. Grace and I spent a good while studying this work. Not only did we like the way she dominated the viewers attention, we were intrigued by the items placed in the painting with her. What did they tell us about her, and what did they symbolize?
In case you're wondering, Vivien here is not a very nice piece of work. She is an evil enchantress from Arthurian legend and this can be backed up by reading the symbols around her. The apple for instance, represents man's fall, the flowers she toys with are poisonous Daphne and the all obliterating Opium Poppy. Teamed with her aloof look, I think she's best kept at arms length
Grace was inspired by the clothes and faces we saw and has already begun to plan her look. Being a professional make up artist I know she will come up with something striking and spot on. I've asked her to keep me posted with any experiments she does and I will post them up here to share with you. You can see an example of Grace's fabulous work in this video for Tranarchy. She certainly isn't afraid of a little lipstick put it that way:
I think the next step in this project will be to get some drawings of Grace done, so I can get used to representing her face, and start to experiment with poses and ideas, kind of like brainstorming with pictures. This will be a good chance gather our ideas and work with what we have already thought about. I'll let you know how we get on next time...