Airs and graces
All 73 Degas sculptures have come , to Glasgow. Beatrice Colin looks at ‘ role of sculpture in the work of one the greatest artists of the modern
‘What kind of man sculpts a nude fourteen-year-old ballerina‘?‘ whispered a man in the gallery of the Burrell collection. ‘And draws her from three angles!‘ In this exhibition of Degas‘ bronzes there are 32 dancers. 20 nudes and l3 women plus numerous horses and two-dimensional associated works which some have seen as being the work of a misogynist. Created with a voyeur‘s sensitivity. they are bronze pieces which shimmer with insight and the ghost of the artists thumb print: bottoms rear from baths. female muscles flex. lingers fix shoes and water is squeezed from ropes ofjust-washed hair. Degas. the artist between Manet and Monet in most ‘0‘ level an curricula. was a man few people knew. A bad-tempered. reclusive bachelor. he sought fatne for his work but held on to his privacy. His sculptures were part of his personal world and only one was
ever exhibited in public in his lifetime.
Born in Paris in l834. he attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts when he was 21 and studied painting and sculpture. He was initially fascinated by Old Masters and historical painting. and made copies of work by artists such as Veronese. Giorgione and Delacroix. In the mid-1860s. Degas began to mix socially with Renoir. Fantin-Latour and Zola and he turned to the
' handling them.
depiction of contemporary life in Paris. He was drawn to race courses, the theatre. dancers in rehearsal. women in laundries or washing in their bathrooms. No ‘serious'. artist had ever painted these subjects before and Degas had to invent a way of
He sketched horses and jockeys on the track. not to ! record the event but to capture their sprung energy. Classical realism was explored through the rhythm and movement of the dancer and he made pages and pages of drawings of unusual poses and viewpoints. ‘The painter shows you his picture. from time to time adding to his explanation by mimicking a l
! choreographic development.‘ the an historian.
. Goncoun said of Degas. ‘By imitating, in the
. language of the dancers. one of their arabesques —
I and it really is very amusing to see him. his arms
' curved, mixing with the dancing master‘s aesthetics I the aesthetics ofthe artist . . .‘
Degas‘ nudes acted as a foil to the dancers. Ungainly yet playful. his models‘ backs are turned to ; the viewer. their faces obscured by hair and their ! eyes locked in downward gazes. He once described these intimate studies as. ‘cats licking themselves‘. or
‘as if seen through the keyhole‘. His paintings and ! pastels began to be recognised by the critics in the mid- l 870s and he was hailed as a mastermind. ' thinker and ideas man of the ‘new painting'. I The only of Degas‘ sculptures ever shown was The 9 Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition of l88l. Two-thirds size. 3 dressed in a real bodice. tutu. stockings. dancing i shoes and with a wig tied back with a green ribbon. it i was exhibited in a glass case like a relic in a g museum. Degas had made the ﬁnal move away from 9 the classicism which had once transfixed him and ; had successfully realised a new kind of naturalism.
i The sculpture was then put away and forgotten. Visitors to his studio in the next few years noticed piles of red wax models literally lying around. When
. he died over I50 pieces were discovered. often in bits. Degas had used these pieces to explore and experiment with his subjects. ‘lt was for my own satisfaction that l modelled horses and people in
g wax,‘ he said to art critic 'l‘hiebault-Sisson. 'Not to
! abandon painting and drawing. but to give my paintings and drawings more expression. more
. ardour and more life. They are exercises to warm me
= up; documents. no more.‘
' Now regarded as the first modemist sculptor. his wax models were the organic part of his vision. A
l pioneer, he walked on uncharted territory always
3 looking for the truth in his subjects. ‘He is a man.‘
i Goncourt claimed. ‘who has best captured. in
reproducing modern life. the soul ofthis life.‘
Degas is a! the Barre/I Collection. Glasgow until [3
IIIIIIII The ﬁnishing
Finland is a land at odds with its own self-image. its cities are beautiful, scored with wide boulevards and modernist architecture. in the country, thousands of lakes divide vast forests and most town dwellers spend their weekends in little wooden country houses lapping up the silence. Nature photography is a national pastime and the good life, punctuated by a winter wonderland and Santa, and a summer lit by the midnight sun, helps perpetuate the myth.
But there is another side to Finland. A recent and dramatic rise in unemployment, alcoholism and pollution all threaten the once stable environment. In this exhibition of five Finnish photographers’ work, the
questions of identity and of man’s relation with the natural world are the basis to live diverse approaches.
.laakko Heikkila’s photographs are abstract but mythical; figures and objects are draped in saffron yellow fabric, and are placed against mottled grey backgrounds or stand waist-high in still water. in the wilderness of these landscapes, our own mortality is illustrated.
Imaginary Homecoming by Jenna 'Puranen is a moving series of works in which large black and white
' transparencies of archival images of the Lapp people lie in the snow, on
reindeer fences and onto the bark of
- trees. Their faces are haunting, like
ghosts caught on celluloid and they . look out onto landscapes seemingly ; unchanged, but locked in another time. . The work of .lurpo Kumuntila was all ' shot on the small island of Junno. : Questioning the invisible forces which ‘ continually change the landscape, he ' uses place names to show how our
perception of a place is formed. lie . merges reality with the surreal, visualising place names by using ligures or superimposing words across landscapes, and suggests our vision of the natural world is to be tampered with by the forces of memory or myth. Other work in this exhibition is less interesting, using kitsch to stress the precarious current state of Finland’s
W 7'; .. g; M‘s-V ! ecology, with shop dummies and cartoons. Yet by turning the notion of nature photography on its head, all the I artists have begun to redefine their 2 country. In this exhibition, it appears i that Finland has just woken up from living in a Christmas card. (Beatrice , Colin) t Second ffature is on at Stills Gallery I
until 15 Jan. J
The List l7 December l 3 January 1994 67