Saturday, 25 June 2011
I’ve lately developed a healthy obsession for the Greeks. Ancient that is, not modern. Bloodbaths, matricide, all powerful goddesses - what’s not to love? It’s archetypal stuff that anyone with any self-knowledge can probably relate to. Actually I seem to have discovered that even if you haven’t a great degree of self-knowledge – mine’s a bit thin on the ground I’m beginning to suspect, although that in itself seems to be a fairly good starting point on the basis that the minute you think you know is usually the exact minute you stop knowing – you can acquire some through reading these timeless stories and spotting your own habits in the character’s unfolding dramas.
We’ve all got goddess traits of one sort or another and it’s fun spotting your own, although I should confess I did get a bit of a hint on which mine might be from an American girlfriend who, upon hearing of my latest romantic nuclear meltdown, (and we are talking Chernobyl here, a Chernobyl of female rage and destructive indignation at perceived maltreatment of women in general and moi in particular, aka misogyny, from someone who’s public ‘spiritual’ face falsely suggests he should know better) asked me what was with me and my Artemis complex.
A lightbulb came on and I immediately remembered what had been my favourite painting when I worked for Anthony Mould in the late 90s – Sir Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Lady Anne Dawson as the Goddess Diana, Diana being the Roman equivalent of the Greek Artemis.
I decided this must have been my subconscious identifying with the insignia of Diana the Huntress – the silver crescent moon in her hair, the adoring greyhound gazing up at her whilst she rests a gentle protective hand on its neck, not to mention the enviable antique rose coloured silk gown with plunging, but not immodest, décolletage.
It was like suddenly coming across my best friend and mirror image – a perhaps slightly over competitive, but in its positive manifestation highly focused, nocturnal, animal lover and somewhat aloof feminist loner who keeps a strong army of female friends and a strict approach to the kind of behaviours she expects from her male partner, i.e. a bit of respect if you don’t mind, otherwise there’ll be trouble. Oh, and a nice line in feminine rage with which to drum up aforementioned trouble as needed.
There’s one particularly amusing story about Diana inadvertently shooting dead her lover, Orion, from some miles distance, when her brother, Apollo, challenged her skills with the bow and arrow. After all, who can resist a good challenge?
Another woman who had more than a little Diana about her was ground breaking photographer and Suffragette Madame Yevonde (1893-1975) who’s most famous quote is the nervous-makingly astringent: ‘be original or die’. Quite right, tell it like it is and no messing.
Madame Yevonde was one of the key pioneers of colour photography. At a time when photographers and public alike were so used to seeing the world reproduced in black and white that the new fangled colour version was met with some hostility, Madame Yevonde was flying the flag for the new with alacrity.
Possibly one of her most important bodies of work is the Goddesses series part of which is currently showing at the PM Gallery in Ealing. Here you’ll find her work hung along side a photographic portrait project by contemporary artist Neeta Madahar, which is a shame in a way because Neeta’s work doesn’t have nearly the va-va-voom nor the creative insight to match up to Madame Yevonde’s. To have hung her work with that of the great woman might have been a mistake akin to Damien Hirst’s brainwave to show his first ever body of work with a brush alongside Gainsborough and Reynolds at the Wallace Collection. A bit of humility might not have gone amiss.
But never mind because the trip out to Ealing is more than worth its while for anyone with an interest in female archetypal psychology or powerful portrait photography. With images here of 1930s society ladies taking on the guise of mythological characters including Arial, Hecate, Flora, Venus and even Medusa, it might give you the chance to discover your own inner goddesses.
PM Gallery and House
Mattock Lane, Ealing
until 3 July