Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Writing THREE - My Visual Pleasure

Writing Three - My Visual Pleasure
Ramon Riley

I am guilty of looking...  

Mulvey’s article proclaims that it intends to destroy pleasure and beauty by analyzing it.  Nice try.  Not even close.  

This week I combine the writing of Mulvey “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” and Chapter Three, “Spectatorship, Power and Knowledge”, of the Sturken and Cartwright book “Practices of Looking...” to discuss my own practice and process.

In my work, I am driven by muses, or goddesses of inspiration.  My earliest memory of this was seeing the replica sculpture of Nike of Samothrace at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, who, like the origin of the word “muse”, is also Greek.  The female body draped with thin fabric clinging in a way that accentuated her curves, especially between her thighs, motivates me still to seek out moments of visual pleasure in life, thus blurring the line between art and life. That this sculpture in its current form is headless is reason for some to criticize me.  Oh well.  

Nike of Samothrace,
 2nd century BC marble sculpture of the Greek goddess Nike

A sculpture, even more than a painting, because it is three-dimensional is the highest form of looking because every curve is studied and touched intimately.  In my latest works, I wanted to bring my drawings close to this level of intimacy and study.  I treat the graphite like a chisel to reveal the image from the paper.  This involves a long hard look.  My intention is to get the viewer to also take a long hard look.

Ramon Riley 2012

The concept of the “gaze” in both articles was well presented and focused on the voyeur having power, at least at first.  The negative connotation it puts on instinct to look as an abuse of power, however, causes me to distance myself from such a definition.  To look is powerful.  One does not have to make another weak to make one’s self powerful. Mulvey talks about a world of sexual imbalance between the “active/ male and passive/ female”.  Reading this article conjured feelings from my youth as the sympathetic male who was missing the boat.  I spent too much time listening to insecure self-haters who want others to hate themselves too.   

I seek to articulate the power the muse already has, so one may be inspired as I am.  The Winged Nike of Samothrace is powerful.  She is the symbol of victory for goodness sake and not just in title.  She is not passive.  Her stance is strong and assertive. That she is actually an object immortalizes her, and makes me wonder who was the muse that inspired the sculpture. To see her image, likeness or qualities in women is cyclical because I am not sure which came first.  
I do believe there is a vast difference, despite subtle distinctions, between the look, the gaze, the scope of an individual predator or the panopticon theory as discussed in the Sturken and Cartwright chapter (p. 96 -100).  The distinction is in the access and motive of discovery.  It should not be a violation of ownership.  The half-cocked can argue that they are one in the same, but I argue in the subtle distinction... there is the art.

The metamorphosis of our capitalist culture to give cheap (not necessarily inexpensive, but cheap) easy access to everything, lowers our standards despite the illusion of “high definition” being the so-called standard.  Putting cameras in everyone’s hands and convincing them they are photographers and directors sabotages the artist, model and potential audience because the work and the venue is tainted.  This results in poor representation of a given medium.  But it makes me more confident and determined as an artist.  I like being me, though it comes at the price of constant self-examination.  I constantly ask myself difficult questions.  My art work stems from the remaining questions I am unable to verbalize that probably have no set answer.  This process makes me the proud co-owner of my discoveries and my art.  

I believe in muses, and I appreciate beauty.  I will not surrender my passion to follow the uninspired nor the uninspiring .  Karen Rosenberg wrote in an article for a Matisse gallery show, “Matisse and the Model,” about the power the model had over him quoting the artist’s words from a 1939 essay:  ‘“I depend entirely on my model, whom I observe at liberty, and then I decide on the pose which best suits her nature.” He continued, “And then I become the slave of that pose.”’(1)  Coincidentally, Matisse’s Large Seated Nudes were inspired by Michaelangelo’s “Night” sculpture at the Medici Chapel in Florence, which was not a flesh woman, but Matisse understood the power of the model was the first critical part to the art work, stating about Michaelangelo’s sculpture:   “Forgive me, I’ve been completely ensnared by a woman.”

Henry Matisse Seated Nude [lithograph and sculpture] 1925-1929

 on the Medici Tomb

(1). Karen Rosenberg, "Matisse and the Model". The New York Times: Art and Design November 17, 2011–http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/18/arts/design/matisse-and-the-model.html

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