Friday, 13 July 2012

What ancient crone?

Below, with no editorialisation, is an excerpt from Brian Sewell's review in the Evening Standard of Aleah Chapin’s painting Auntie, which has won this year's BP Portrait Award.
 ...this ancient crone stands life-size, full-frontal and stark naked, heavy breasts drooping low, skin stretched and sagging, looking as though, par-boiled and with the lividity of death about her lower quarters, she has just escaped from a cannibal’s cooking-pot. ...no sympathy gentles the stark observation of every detail, nor is desire roused; instead, this painting stimulates revulsion.
Had the painter stopped at the neck, this would have been a portrait of sorts; had she included the shoulders, it would still have been a portrait; but below them it becomes a grotesque medical record, the body disproportionately large. Did Miss Chapin not see that in her obsession with the ghastliness of ageing flesh, she had enlarged this repellent body beyond the scale of the head and given primacy, not to the  implications of the face — the eyes purblind, the slight smile a rictus, the tousled hair perhaps some indication of character — but to the belly-button and the breasts. ...Just think: the National Portrait Gallery took down the nudes of Freud to award a prize to this.
The image is below. It is a realistic, gentle, careful and rare image of a specific woman's body - a woman who is, like the overwhelming majority of us, not a model, an athlete or a decorative object, but a human being with personality and experience, upon whom time, age, and gravity act quite naturally, as they do upon everyone. Calmness and compassion also increase with age - but not for everyone. What could this painting have done to have aroused such revulsion in Sewell?

Auntie by Aleah Chapin
There is now a lively Mumsnet reaction thread to this.

I read Sewell's review in the Evening Standard yesterday on the train  at about 5pm, travelling on the Victoria line from King's X to Highbury & Islington. When I first got on the train there was an ordinary-looking guy in his late thirties reading a tits paper, either The Sun or the Daily Star. He was very happy, sitting proudly on the very edge of his seat at the end of his row, knees apart, heels together, taking up as much space as possible, holding the paper wide open, staring hard-eyed and with intense concentration all over the form of the model pictured there. The model was in a pair of knickers. Just like the portrait Sewell loathes, the photograph of this young and beautiful woman had "given primacy, not to the implications of the face...but to the belly-button and the breasts." But no-one was complaining.