A series on how film noir inspires my art- Entry #5
1. a. causing death
b. bringing ruin
c. causing failure
2. a. determining one's fate
b. of or relating to fate
c. resembling fate in proceeding according to a fixed sequence
Put them both together, and it becomes:
1. a seductive woman who lures men into dangerous or compromising situations
2. a woman who attracts men by an aura of charm and mystery
But I like to think of her in astrological terms.
Astrologically, nemesis is a theoretical star that may have once been a twin star of our sun. A Femme Fatale is a mysterious dark star, a nemesis to the bright, sunny fairy tale princess of my childhood.
But if she is so evil, why do we love her so much?
Be good, be patient, look pretty and maybe the prince will come and save you. I was taught that as a girl, it was the foundation of my world view and identity. I had no examples of powerful, non-domestic women in my life. Into this vacuum stepped the only example of feminine power available to me: the Femme Fatale.
But all the while, I still rejoice in the cathartic glorification of my dark princess, the lost twin star, our nemesis, the Femme Fatale.
For Extra Credit!
A fabulous article: In Defense of Villainesses, by Sarah Gailey- so much fun!
Why Noir? is a series! Read 'em all.
A series on how film noir inspires my art- Entry #4
Any artist will tell you, the key to artistic maturity is to discover one's own unique, consistent language. I seek to find a balance of representation and abstraction.
Modern Art, and design in the Modernist period dealt with this specifically.
While experts say Modernism died with the onslaught of WWII, I think it was a part of the cultural zeitgeist well afterwards, especially in popular culture.
My style is evocative of the painting and graphic arts that were contemporary with the hey-day of film noir. So, not only do I learn from films noir directly, I also love the style of the era, and let this inform the way I choose to depict the subject.
Much like how I engage with the subject of film noir, I like to find the essence of what I am seeing and try to express it with forthright simplicity.
Why Noir? is a series! Read 'em all.
A series on how film noir inspires my art- Entry #3
Many film noir aficionados know that American film noir was born from German Expressionism,
I have become better at marshaling the elements of design, such as value, arrangement, and scale. I believe these skills transcend any specific style and will translate to other subjects as my creative interests evolve.
Why Noir? is a series! Read 'em all.
A series on how film noir inspires my art- Entry #2
How did I start my film noir obsession?
I was in a state of transition with my art. Unsatisfied with the work I had been doing at that time, I went back to basics and started experimenting, and taking classes from Mark Andres. I was engaging in an exercise to copy a film still in the style of a painter of my choice. My choice was to do a still from The Bad and the Beautiful, in the style of the German Expressionist, Max Beckmann. I entitled it “Lana Turner Lost in the Land of Beckmann” The drama of the subject, matched with the freedom of Expressionist painting was a revelation.
I was hooked.
At first, I created my art directly from screenshots of films. They were very altered, but from specific scenes. Gradually, the images kept getting more and more altered, until I started to create my own scenes.
Now ideas emerge from multiple sources. I may be inspired from a film scene or photograph, or I may want to express something from my own imagination. The people I paint are slivers of my own soul, maybe even archetypes of our collective soul.
The scenes in my artwork are presented without irony and are imbued with an immediacy which invites the viewer to step into the scene as a contemporary moment. If we could walk through the picture frame and become part of the action. If this could be possible, what would you see, and who would be there?
Why Noir? is a series! Read 'em all.
Entry #1: Why Noir?
A series on how film noir inspires my art- Entry #1
I am an artist who is inspired by the past. As a narrative painter, I feel compelled to tell a story with my art. For a number of years now, my subject matter has been primarily based on classic film noir imagery.
So, I feel I must ask myself, why noir? Why do I feel myself drawn to this imagery?
Film Noir? Qu'est-ce que c'est?
The hey-day of this film genre is roughly the 1940’s and 50’s. But, the term "Film Noir" was coined by French film critics later, in the 1960’s. At the time, they were simply known as “crime pictures” inspired by American hardboiled crime fiction. They were largely “B” movies with a tight budget.
Many of them were made by European émigrés escaping the Nazis. They brought with them a grounding in what is called “German Expressionism”.
The term “noir” has since expanded to not just describe a moment in movie history, but to describe a sensibility, that can be infused into any form of expression.
To read more about film noir, you can read my posts:
A Brief Primer on Film Noir Part One: The Formal Visual Elements
A Brief Primer on Film Noir Part Two: Oh, the Drama!
Or better yet!
Why Noir? is a series! Read 'em all.
Okay. If you are reading this, you may think I'm mad, because, obviously, this is a blog.
But, it recently came to my attention that not everyone really understands what a blog is. Since I am about to release a blog series, I thought it would be a good idea to just spell it all out.
Typically, blogs are arranged in reverse chronological order, newest going down to oldest. It is as if you collected a daily newspaper, and stacked them all up on the floor: the newest would be on top. The oldest at the bottom.
A few more details:
On the side bar, there are ways to find specific entries or subjects under "categories" and "archives". There is even a search bar, where you can do a mini-google-type search on the blog.
There is also a way to make comments on my blog, just below each entry. The comment gets kicked over to my email box, where I can decide whether I want my readers to see the comment or not. If I do want that, I "publish" it, and it will be seen just below.
A bit of history...
I started my blog at blogspot.com in 2008, even before I had a website. In May, 2022, I switched away from Blogspot to to this blog, which is hosted by Weebly, the company that hosts my website.
This means that I essentially have two blogs. I was able to switch some of my entries from the old blog to the new, but the original Blogspot version has many, many more entries, and if you ever become obsessed and want to know about my artistic history, that is where you'd go. But all new posts will be hosted right here.
But truthfully, I return to him again and again.
Here, while painting a piece called "Look Out", I had my trusty Gauguin book, laying on the floor beside my easel, so I could catch it out of the corner of my eye as I worked.
The art of non-European lands came to influence and educate the artists in Europe and led to exciting new forms of abstraction, such as geometric designs, exaggerated body proportions and stark contrasts. It is part of what makes Modern Art and Post-Impressionism so beautiful and engaging.
It seems funny to me that I found myself looking at paintings of Tahitians to get the tone I am looking for in my painting- unless, of course, the man in Look Out is Tahitian.
But, being influenced by Gauguin’s bold use of color helps me stretch my comfort level and key up my palette when needed.
Warning: this post has pictures of bare-naked ladies.
My newest piece, Boudoir II, may be called something of a "boudoir painting"- a bit of campy fun for me. I find myself drawn to appropriating and playing with traditional forms of displaying the female form.
What is a boudoir painting?
It is a painting of an object of desire, for the purposes of private viewing, rather that public display. In other words, for the bedroom, not the drawing room.
However prurient the motivations creating and owning such art may have been, boudoir painting has an august history, and are often considered to be some of the worlds greatest works of art.
The examples of boudoir paintings shown below differ from Boudoir II in one important way: my lady has got clothes on. But what it does have in common with them are: a prominent female figure, who usually addresses the viewer directly, in an intimate setting, that includes props that infer meaning. The trappings and props create a narrative, and often, the artworks raison d'etre.
At any rate, the inclusion of "Venus" in the title provides the necessary bona fides that made this an acceptable work to own.
"Orientalism" is another way that western painters could legitimize depicting the female nude. Imperialism and colonialism created a blank canvas upon which a European artist could depict sensuality not permitted by polite society in Europe.
Grand Odalisque by Ingres is one of the most famous examples of this.
Interesting fact: the word "Odalisque" means an enslaved woman, or a concubine in a harem. It's French, derived from the Turkish word, odalık, which derived from the word oda, meaning "room". As in, you can't leave your room.
Then things started to get really interesting.
In 1865, Edward Manet painted "Olympia". It was transparently referring to The Venus of Urbino, shown above, but with oppositional elements. It was shocking to society at the time, not because she was naked, but because of her frank, direct gaze, and accoutrements that indicated she was a prostitute, not a goddess or an exotic "other". She is depicted as a woman in charge of her sexuality, not a receptive, docile plaything. (An interesting and related subject is the difference between "nude" and "naked" in traditional art- but that is for another blog post!)
Though the veil may have been ripped off the pretense of female nudity, the racist depiction of her black maid, who literally disappears into the background, was entirely conventional.
For some interesting background about both of the models in this painting, go to these articles: Victorine Meurent and Laure.
As time went on, the ability to mass produce imagery developed, so the boudoir picture moved from the salons of the privileged few to the Everyman. Depictions of nudity, and specifically female nudity, became more and more acceptable in fine art and in popular culture.
For a great example of this, check out Vixen Pin Up Photography, whose tag-line is "Be the Girl of Your Dreams"
In 1975, Laura Mulvey, feminist film and culture critic coined the phrase "The Male Gaze" to unpack the phenomena of the preponderance of female nudes in visual culture.
In 1985, an anonymous group of female artists called The Guerrilla Girls formed to fight sexism and racism within the art world.
So, what does this all mean? I don't pretend to be particularly enlightened when it comes to feminism and art. I am still very beholden to The Male Gaze myself. But part of being an artist is following where our inspiration leads us. My relationship to sexualized images of women is an inexorable part of who I am. The question is, what do I do with it? How does it reflect my individuality? Does it resonate with others, and if so, how?
Yes, I love archeology and ancient history.
On my last vacation, I brought books to read and some drawing materials. One book in particular grabbed me and wouldn't let go; The Sutton Hoo Story by Martin Carver. I felt moved to produce drawings inspired by what I learned and saw.
I find myself so fascinated by archeology that, at some point, I may create an entirely new body of work. It's all very speculative, but it is very exciting for me, and I wanted to share it with you now.
What is Sutton Hoo?
There is a really great movie based on a novel, both called The Dig that dramatizes the excavation of Mound 1, where some of the most impressive and beautiful artifacts ever found in Britain were discovered.
But while I like jewels and treasures, it is the dirt and bones that really intrigue me.
My first endeavor was a pencil sketch of the remains in burial Mound 17.
Among other things, there were caldrons, weapons, a comb, and the remains of a bridle. In another mound close by, his horse was interred, along with a bucket of oats.
My next sketch was of another, very different type of grave.
After the region had converted to Christianity, this sacred ground, populated with rich burial mounds for esteemed community leaders, was used as a place to execute convicted criminals. A gallows was erected on one of the mounds, and the site is littered with shallow graves of the disgraced and condemned.
It's sad, it's haunting and it's beautiful.
The last piece I produced is a pencil sketch of an idea I have brewing in the back of my brain. My impulse is to layer, somehow, images and inspirations from digs. I would like to create drawings of the finds, and layer them with schematic diagrams and maps, along with my imagined scenarios of the people and objects when they were alive and in use. I may need to learn a new medium, such as encaustic, to gain the effect I want.
This is a rough idea of what I might do. It is a composite image of things from the famous Mound 1. Below the sketch are images from the book that I have woven into the sketch.
Mound 1 was covering a large ship. Within the hull of the ship there was a wooden burial chamber, containing a coffin and body, and many stunningly valuable grave goods. It is one of the most famous archeological finds in history.
I'm really not sure where this is headed. It's very exciting and a little scary.
I will continue with my current series of art based on film noir until it feels right to commence on this new path.
Maybe I never will get to it, or maybe I will start next week.
Arvie Smith (born 1938) is a nationally recognized African American painter based in my hometown of Portland, Oregon.
There is a nice little bio of him here on the Hallie Ford Museum website, where he is having an exhibition from January 22- March 26th, 2022.
Smith's work is so, so, so many things.
The figures in his paintings shift from being vivid individuals, to embodying biting racist tropes, and back again. He celebrates Black culture and tradition, and in the same image crams racist symbols from the larger, white dominated culture. These images live side by side in the same painting, which is what I imagine it may be like for African Americans every day, all day long.
Seeing these paintings on your tiny phone or desk top will in no way indicate what it is like to see them in person. They fairly leap off the wall at you, and they seem to pulse with color and light.
His website is here:www.arviesmith.com
Here are the hotsheets with the sordid details, the true confessions, and the inside info on my artistic process. Learn how it all happens right here!
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