What exactly do we have here? Probably a question asked by many when viewing figurative expressionist art. Bill Barrell talks a little about what he sees in his painting “The Studio Visitation” as well as his thoughts on models and muses.
– Picasso and Matisse seemed to have no end of models, but I suspect that they often used old memories when they painted. Especially Picasso, who would paint late into the night when most of his models or wives would be tucked safely into their beds. I have never been in a financial situation that allows me the privilege to hire models. When a painting begins to lead me into what is starting to look like a figure, I allow it to carry me off in that direction. The female figure divine, as it was called at one time, is an enchanting and mysterious image. Male painters are fortunate to have this vision, their muse as a woman. (I cannot speak for women as I can’t see the male form in the same way as they do.) The female comes in a variety of shapes and forms, old and young, but always intriguing. They are the ones who create us. They are the ones who we bonded with first and they are the ones who have nurtured us. As men, all we can do is help in a small way to make the situation come about.
Well, one of the beauties of painting is that the painting will always retain its true and secret meaning. Not even the artist can know the true meaning as the painting often comes together at a moment when the artist is not aware of what has happened. When looking at paintings it is best to absorb the feeling of the work rather than what it means. Take the Mona Lisa for instance. What is going on in her mind? I can hazard some guesses. Did she and Leonardo make love? Has she just laid a fart and is thinking, no one will ever know? Perhaps a thought has just crossed her mind of how she wished she were nude in front of Leonardo. Perhaps Leonardo has just winked at her. It could be something totally benign like, did I leave the laundry out again. The thing is – we will never know and if we did, where would lie the interest in Mona Lisa?
Now, in my painting, The Studio Visitation, what do we have? He looks somewhat surprised, but is he really? Is she dressing or undressing? It looks like her breasts have arrived ahead of her. She is giving him a penetrating look as if to say, “you know why I am here.” She is looking a little angry. Has he forgotten something? She is also showing a goodly amount of thigh. Could the breasts and the inner thigh be a tempation? Or is it just his imagination undressing her? Whatever is about to happen will have witnesses who are lurking in the background. An eavesdropper and a young woman – his daughter perhaps? It is definitely all taking place in his studio as he does not look too disturbed. Perhaps this is a model from his imagination that he would like to hire. Perhaps he forgot to pick the kid up from school.
We will never know. It is a moment in time – caught in an emotional way and frozen forever. Leaving us with the painting and eternal question to return to – what do we have here? –