Part 2 Research – suggestions from Tutor

Diego Velasquez

I realise that I need to get myself in front of some of Velasquez’s work as I imagine standing before them to be far more powerful an experience looking at them on screen. I am starting to feel the inadequacy of not seeing work in person more and more as I continue the course as I am unable to look at brushwork and method/approach to the painting.  I cannot appreciate the way the canvas looks and also the impact of the piece on me in an energetic way.  This is something I completely acknowledge and need to rectify as soon as I can.

For the purposes of this research I have specifically looked at the painting ‘Christ contemplated by the Christian Soul’, (probably 1628-9).

How does it make me feel? Sad, not because this is Christ suffering, but  because it is a man suffering.  There is a look of resignation on Christ’s face, almost beyond suffering – juxtaposed with the saintly presentation of him in a perfect bodily form.  It is a strange depiction – it isn’t gory or horrifying, he still has this idealised look about him, except from the expression which in some ways makes the emotion of the piece more poignant.

Do I like the work? Yes, because he has been bold enough to paint about a subject that was rarely put into work of that era.  He has also done this with the depiction of the female nude in the painting ‘The Toilet of Venus (‘The Rokeby Venus’)’ (1647-51) – female nudes in artwork being frowned on by the Church.  So I like the work as much for Velasquez’s daring as the composition of the piece.  I like that we are being forced to look at a man who has been tortured, we are being asked to contemplate that part of human nature, especially from the perspective of knowing he is now considered saintly and the son of God. It is an exploration of the dark side of human nature, especially with the instruments of his punishment, boldly displayed in the foreground of the picture – we are unable to escape the contemplation of what we as a collective race can do to other men in the name of power, God, the law, religion etc etc

What does it remind me of? It makes me think of prisoners of war, people captured and tortured because of someone else’s beliefs.  It makes me contemplate the suffering of all people in general and how we are all struggling in some way or other to cope with being alive.

What about the composition? 165.1 x 206.4cm – A vast piece of work. Interesting that Christ is central in the piece.  There is a column in the first vertical third, then Christ in the central third and the Guardian Angel and child in the final third.  The flagellation tools are in the foreground and there is a strong dark shape in the foreground on the left – which I feel represents the darkness of us, those who are looking at him allowing this torture to happen, or indeed represents the torturer themselves.

What style is the work in? Figurative,

What colour palette has the artist used? Muted, almost monochrome with lots of tones of grey – the only departure being the clothing of the Guardian Angel.  There are also a lot of darker tones, which for me reflect the contemplative nature of the piece, the dark act that has taken place and the suffering that Christ is experiencing.

What is the subject matter? 

The painting depicts Christ after he has been tortured with flagellation. There are two figures depicted in the painting alongside Christ – the guardian angel and the christian soul that has been personified as a child – who is contemplating Christ’s suffering.

What’s the significance of the title? Christ contemplated by the Christian Soul – this title directs the viewer to contemplate the act of violence perpetrated against Christ through the eyes of innocence.  To contemplate man not from logic but from instinct.

What medium has the artist used and the support? Oil paint on canvas

What’s the date? 1628-29


Edgar Degas – ‘Drawing Movement: A Strange New Beauty at MoMa’, posted 28/5/2016

I am particularly interested in the piece ‘Heads of a Man and a Woman’ (c. 1877-80) – there is a great painterly quality to Degas’s mono prints which I would like to try and emulate in my own work for part 3.

How does it make me feel? Absence is the first emotion I connect with – as if I am missing something, that I am outside the sphere that everyone else is moving in and I am unable to engage with anyone.

Do I like the work? Yes, there is a deep sense of movement and estrangement that comes through in this small piece of work.  It makes me further contemplate my own use of scale – if this piece is 7.2 x 8.1cm, it shows just how much energy and intensity can be created in a small form.

What does it remind me of? feeling depressed and unable to connect with other people, feelings of isolation and aloneness.

What about the composition?

There is an immediate impact with the figures taking up most of the foreground – there is little room to escape the power of the image.

What style is the work in? figurative with abstraction, erasure/distortion

What colour palette has the artist used? In this piece Degas has only used black, however, there are other pieces that utilise colourful oil paint that also behave more unpredictably with the process of printing and, therefore, produce more abstraction.

What is the subject matter? Two figures in a blur – we are put in the position of passing two strangers in the street – he is described as examining the ‘frenetic activity of urban life’ – which somehow seems ironic in the 21st Century when our lives are so much more intensified with activity and doing rather than being.

What’s the significance of the title? ‘Heads of a Man and a Woman’ – it is impartial, cold, shows the lack of connection between the viewer and the subject matter.


Mike Kelley

The Tate has no images to show on their website in connection with Mike Kelley’s curation of the 2004 ‘The Uncanny’ exhibition.  I found the link below which shows some of the pieces of work on display at this exhibiton.

I am commenting below on the images in the White Cube Diaries link above:-

How does it make me feel? Pretty horrified, I am drawn to it and appalled by it in equal measure, but it is an incredibly uncomfortable set of work to contemplate deeply.

Do I like the work? Yes and no – it is as mesmerising as it is awful so it is difficult to say whether ‘like’ has any place in my contemplation of the work.  I like the idea of artwork being ‘adult’, ‘challenging’ and ‘uncomfortable’ – I don’t want to look at ‘pretty’ things that make me feel nice – I want to have questions put to me and difficult things to contemplate, however, this exhibition is still really hard to deal with!

What does it remind me of? nightmares, horrifying thoughts that lurk at the back of one’s mind, the ancient fear of whether one can ever be safe.

What is the subject matter? All things macabre and horrifying – it certainly embodies the feeling of ‘uncanny’.  It is a contemplation of the darkness within us – and also the darkness that we then inflict on others.  In the exhibition I see torment and torture represented and I see deviance of the human psyche – a comment on just how much the human mind can move away from accepted ‘norms’. I also see fear in all of the pieces, a fear beyond thought and time, an affliction that the human race have to live alongside perpetually.

What’s the significance of the title? ‘The Uncanny’ – referring to the work by Sigmund Freud gives the collection of work a focus – it reflects the choices made by Kelley in the curation of the works and gives a context to the exhibition.


Roxy Walsh

I like the colours in Walsh’s work.  I particularly like the ‘Better after Death’ series of works.  I like the way the text is incorporated into the pieces but the form of the letters are in themselves part of the landscape of the images rather than separate and ‘word-like’.  I understand the work on an instinctive level, something in me responds without my intellect engaging.


There is a dream-like ethereal quality to some of Walsh’s work.  There is something intangible in the abstract compositions, something that my mind attempts to grasp at but slips from me.  There is a strong element of ‘woman’, even if only through an energy of the pieces if not explicitly about women – I feel it is a deeper exploration of what being a member of the tribe ‘women’ means, and how that tribe has been mistreated or formed by male dominance in society etc.  I struggle with the penis’s though – they are a bit much for me! There is great humour in the titles but it also underpins a much greater message/comment.  The titles are edgy and creative, they send my mind in unexpected directions when contemplating the work.

Alex Katz

Looking at the print archive on the Alex Katz website (link above) I am interested mostly in the monotone pieces of work, the ones that use multiple greys.  There is a stillness and level of disquiet within them.  They are perhaps too ‘graphic’ for my taste, they remind of Michael Craig-Martin’s work.  They are a good reminder to me of the small amount of information required in a piece for the mind to fill in the detail.  There is a glorious amount of space in the prints – the energy of the negative areas really supporting the simple forms of the positive. There is a paring down and lack of mark making that I could certainly take note of for my own work, and also a level of radiance and light that I struggle to retain.




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