The Death of Innocence in the Face of Honesty 2010
This is the companion painting to Glory be to God for dappled things (2010). The surface flesh of the reclining nude is covered in a floral pattern. A colloquial name for the plant is honesty (lunaria annua). The fictitious Elmo is a puppet from the popular television and media children’s Muppet show and is depicted here as hanging or (being hanged) off a fan light. The playful pun of the fan is given an alternative role as an obstetrician’s light focussing on the woman’s genitalia. So too is Elmo’s eye popping stare; that eternal fixated gaze of the male here depicted even in the last throes of life. One can imagine him exclaim, “Elmo’s seeing something that most kids only dream about”! I was mindful of the reprehensible Chaval, a character from Zola’s novel Germinal, who upon the realisation of impending doom within the confines of a coal mine, as a final gesture attempts the rape of his woman, a fellow female worker.
Elmo is a popular iconic (children’s) media character who is deemed to be an epitome of innocence. In my painting this innocence is shattered. His normally (and purposely) de-sexed form takes on an ominous adult persona as the shadow projected from his left (sinister) hand takes on a distinctly (engorged) phallic shape over his groin; perhaps a masochistic reference to achieving sexual arousal through asphyxiation.
In returning Elmo’s (male) gaze I have placed an African mask over the woman’s face. Superficially the two iconic symbols represent diametrically opposed functions: the one a frivolous character invented to entertain children and generate profit, the other having (an assumed) serious ritual function. But both serve a purpose within the contexts of their own cultures; they stand in as signifiers meeting particular needs. I have combined a variety of patterns to create a feminised interior much the same as is used in U-Kiyoye – Japanese woodblock prints.
In formal terms all roads lead to Rome. On the left the visual compositional steps lead down to the focus of the painting, to the woman’s vagina, tantalisingly obscured from the viewer by her raised right leg but clearly visible to Elmo.