Saturday, 29 September 2012


Her beauty has informed artists over the decades. From the roof of his palace, King David sees her at her bath, and after that one glimpse, he wants her. I bet she was stunning; drop dead gorgeous. Her name is Bathsheba and she is a married woman. Her husband Uriah, is a soldier, fighting on the front line in the war against the Ammonites. This is no nameless husband, someone whom David has never heard of. The biblical text tells us of “Uriah the Hittite.” He is named as one of David's mighty men, known for his bravery and courage as a soldier. But Uriah’s wife is fit for a king. And this king intends to have her.

Rembrandt paints Bathsheba in 1654 in a spirit of intimacy. Her face reflects the difficulty of the situation - forced to submit to the king's will, she feels the guilt of betraying her husband Uriah.
William Drost painted Bathsheba also in 1654, illustrating her moral dilemma. She receives the letter from King David.

Leonard Cohen sings about her.

“You saw her bathing on the roof,Her beauty and the moonlight and overthrew you.”

And another painting, by Cornelius Van Harleem. 1594

So the king is watching her, spying on her at her bath. Is Bathsheba an exhibitionist? Does she sense that she is being watched?

FRANCESCO SOLIMENA The bible is not exactly steeped in erotica. With the exception of “The Song of Solomon”, it is difficult to find anything connected with erotic love, or erotic desire. And what of Bathsheba herself? What does she represent? What point were the writers of the bible trying to make?

Bathsheba at the well, a boy brings King David's letter, Peter Paul Rubens.

Other women in the bible, are well defined. Holy virgin, Mary, mother of Jesus, meek and obedient; the reformed whore, Mary Magdalene, whirling in incense and sulphur; there is Jezebel steeped in depravity; and there is Ruth, with her wonderful quality of loyalty. Even Lot’s daughters and their horrible seduction of their father, (which makes me cringe whenever I read it) you can argue that their crime is justified.

HANS Von Aachen So is beautiful Bathsheba there, just to demonstrate the lust and weakness of a powerful king? It would seem so.

Bathsheba and David Jan Massys David, up until this episode, has always been presented as a loyal servant of the Lord. His name, David means “beloved”. David slew the mighty Philistine, Goliath. He was a hero and Samuel, the prophet declared him “chosen by the Lord”. David has had the love and protection of the Lord throughout his life.

Bathsheba at her Bath. Jacob Von Loo Yet in introducing David as a letch, the bible writers show us that David is as capable of falling and failing, as anyone of us. Looking, seeing the forbidden, has an irresistible allure and David cannot drag his eyes away. He is a voyeur and the artists featured here place the viewer in the same position.

As for Bathsheba, I am still having difficult in framing her -- I’d appreciate any ideas that any of you may have. Is she just a cipher -- an example of how even great men can be tempted? Or is she something more?

For a Feminist approach to Bathsheba click here

Friday, 21 September 2012


La Madone-au-Coeur-bless 1991 “It’s hard to think of contemporary culture without the influence of Pierre et Gilles, from advertising to fashion photography, music video, and film. This is truly global art.” Jeff Koons.
Saint Sebastian 1987 “Pierre Commoy, the photographer, was born in 1950 in La Roche-sur-Yon.[1] Gilles Blanchard, the painter, was born in 1953 in Le Havre.[1] In the early 1970s, Blanchard took a degree at the École des Beaux-Arts in Le Havre, while Commoy studied photography in Geneva.” WIKI
Saint Sebastian of the Sea 1994 “In 1974, Blanchard moved to Paris to paint and make illustrations for magazines and advertisements. Commoy started working as a photographer for the magazines Rock & Folk,Dépèche Mode and Interview.” WIKI
The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, 1996 “In autumn 1976, Commoy and Blanchard met at the inauguration of a Kenzo boutique in Paris, and they started living together in an apartment in Rue des Blancs-Manteaux that they also use as a studio. The next year they started working together; Blanchard painted the images, Commoy took the photos. Their public breakthrough came with their images for the magazine Façade, with portraits of Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger and Iggy Pop.” WIKI
Legend-Madonna-1990 The cosmos of the worldwide renowned French artist duo is a vivid, colourful world poised between baroque sumptuousness and earthly limbo. Pierre et Gilles create unique hand-painted photographic portraits of film icons, sailors and princes, saints and sinners, of mythological figures and unknowns alike. Pierre et Gilles pursue their own, stunningly unique vision of an enchanted world spanning fairytale paradises and abyssal depths, quoting from popular visual languages and history of art. Again and again, they re-envision their personal dream of reality anew in consummate aesthetic perfection.
Le Grand Amour-Marilyn Manson and Dita Von Teese Pierre et Gilles are among the most influential artists of our time. In their complex, multilayered images, they quote from art history, transgress traditional moral codes, and experiment adeptly with social clichés.
Saint Rose de Lima 1989 Their painterly photographic masterpieces exert an intense visual power that leaves the viewer spellbound.
Mercure 2001 Over the last thirty years, Pierre et Gilles have created photographic portraits of numerous celebrities including Marc Almond, Mirelle Mathieu, Catherine Deneuve, Serge Gainsbourg, Iggy Pop, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Nina Hagen, Madonna, and Paloma Picasso.
Neptune 1988 They work almost exclusively in an opulently furnished studio, where their subjects are costumed lavishly and placed before three-dimensional backgrounds. Pierre photographs the model, and Gilles retouches and hand-colours the print. The reproducible portrait is rendered unique through painting, which highlights each detail with carefully selected materials and accessories. I have not been able to find any sources concerning how the two have influenced other artists, but it seems to me that Jean-Paul Gaultier, has borrowed ideas from them for his sensual perfume advertising campaigns. This post was suggested by my friend Stephen and put together using sources from the Web.

Friday, 14 September 2012


He was born on 29th  September 1703 and died on 30th May 1770. François Boucher was one of the most important and prolific artists of the Rococo period. If we think that today we are the first generation to depict erotic works of art, we are misinformed; Boucher painted many erotic paintings throughout his career.

Leda and the swan.

Boucher captures the moment before penetration takes place. Perhaps three pulse beats of anticipation.

From an early age, Boucher was a student of the early Rococo artist François Lemoyne until 1721 when he began working as an engraver. In 1723 Boucher won the Prix de Rome, an illustrious art scholarship to study in Rome that Boucher's teacher, Francois Lemoyne, also won in 1711. Boucher didn't go to Rome immediately, and continued working as an engraver for Laurent Cars for 300 francs a year, and then travelled to Italy 4 years later in 1727 at his own expense.

Hercules and Omphale.
The viewer is a voyeur of an intensely private moment.

Upon his return to France, he was elected to the Royal Academy where he had much success. He was soon Rector of the Academy, and head of the Royal Gobelins Manufactory in 1755 and "First Painter to the King" in 1765. He was a favourite of the influential mistress of the king Mme de Pompadour, and excelled in painting many of her portraits.

Le Bassin
The oval shape of the painting places the viewer in the position of spy. The viewer is peeping through the keyhole.

Marie-Louise O’Murphy

Boucher had also painted at least one erotic portrait of another of the King's mistresses, Marie-Louise O'Murphy, in a pose that has become very familiar with Boucher and is  known as the "Blonde Odalisque". He made several paintings in this series including the "Brown Odalisque" whose model is thought to be Boucher's wife.

The Odalisque
Her white flesh is highlighted by the luscious blue velvet.

Many of Francois Boucher's early nudes were tangled up in mythological allegory to avoid criticism -- though as can be seen from his "Odalisques" and other works, Boucher transitioned to more open eroticism.

Le Triomphe de Venus
I think that this is an orgy, rather than a rape. It has the mood of a celebration. The participants are gleeful.

And this one, Raised Skirt; attributed to Boucher. I wonder if he did paint it? And if he didn’t -- well who did? Again the viewer is a spy -- another through the keyhole moment.

Images from Erotic Art. You can view further images here.

Friday, 7 September 2012


There’s a curious phenomenon in the UK. It happens on a weekday at 9.25am. Scroll through the channels at that time and you’ll find the Jeremy Kyle show on channel three. It is a talk show, based on the Jerry Springer model in the US. People go on the show to pour their hearts out on national television and Jeremy solves their predicament; at least that’s the general idea.

Those of you in the US will not have heard of Jeremy Kyle. Just substitute his name with Jerry Springer and you will get what I am talking about.

“Is he my real father?” or “He left me for my best friend and got her pregnant”. “My partner is a drug addict,” “my mother is having sex with a 16 year old boy,” “who stole Grandma’s savings?” These are examples of some of the predicaments that Jeremy is asked to solve.

The guests ask Jeremy for DNA tests, polygraph tests; Jeremy obliges. He is a bastion for the nation. A defender of morality. His suggestion for the cure of unwanted, or surprise pregnancy, is to; “put something on the end of it.” His statement is crude, but as he says; “I’m only being honest.” You can’t fault Jeremy’s wisdom.

The scenario always follows the same  format. Jeremy introduces his guest, let’s call him Clyde, and they talk through Clyde’s dilemma. Jeremy is softly spoken; sympathetic. “If she has a reputation, you are bound to doubt whether you’re the child’s father.” They go to a break; “Don’t go changing! When we come back, we’ll see what Michelle has to say!”

Clyde is about 19, Michelle, his sexual partner for just a few weeks, is a year younger.

Ad break over. Enter Michelle, cursing, furious. She swings a blow at Clyde. The heavies rush on stage and push Michelle, kicking and screaming onto a seat, well away from Clyde. Michelle is weeping now; Jeremy asks William, the show’s dogsbody, for some tissues. Michelle blows her nose and directs a litany of profanities at Clyde. Jeremy picks up on one. Clyde has “slept” with a variety of women. (I have an issue with the euphemism “slept”. Say it how it is and call it “had sex!”) But Clyde is obviously proud of his sexual prowess, and can’t suppress a smirk.

Having allowed Michelle to embarrass herself in front of the nation, Jeremy now proceeds to take Clyde apart. The dissection  is painful; it’s meant to be.

“You were complaining about Michelle’s reputation! You’ve had all of these women, what does that make you?”

“He slept with Janine in a pub toilet,” yells Michelle. (There we go again, that word “slept”) “And I was a virgin when I slept with him! He knew I was, he told me I couldn’t get pregnant on my first time!”

A few other guests are brought on. Michelle’s mum, Clyde’s mum. Clyde’s best friend Joe, who vouches for Michelle being a slapper.
Then finally, finally, the DNA test. “Of course you’re the child’s biological father!” Jeremy yells at Clyde.
“Told you!” Michelle smirks, hugging her mum.
 “So now what are you going to do?” asks Jeremy of Clyde.
“Well, I’ll support them,” says Clyde, blushingly. He’s obviously going to take fatherhood seriously.
“How are you going to do that?” asks Jeremy. “Got a job have you?”
“No, but I’m looking.”
“So who’s going to pay in the meantime?”
“I’ll pay it out of my dole.”
“You mean I, and every other tax payer in the UK will pay for your offspring, just because you were too lazy to put something on the end of it? ( I told you Jeremy likes to say that!)
Exit, Michelle, Michelle’s mum, Clyde and his mum and Joe for family mediation -- a big round of applause from the audience.

Then another family is ritually humiliated as they delve into the consternation of “who stole Grandma’s life savings?”
Jeremy challenges and castigates each guest as they come on stage. “Whoever did this is the lowest of the low,” he declares. “To steal from a 98 year old woman.” Each family member has their results  of the polygraph read out. Cheers from the audience as each person is declared truthful -- then finally, and Jeremy says he could have told them whom it was from the moment she walked on stage -- it’s the eldest sister, Moira, she who has been accusing everyone else. Heckles, boos and hisses from the audience. Moira says that the polygraph must be wrong. Jeremy says it is never wrong. (Not actually true. That’s why the UK police don’t use it, because it can give false readings.)

So that’s pretty much how it goes. The template is the same for a variety of scenarios. So this is good, isn’t it? How can it possibly be bad? Jeremy helps people put right their transgressions, offers help to drug addicts and alcoholics and unites family members who have lost each other.

“According to his bosses at ITV1 the eponymous host is a 'talk show star' with a 'unique ability to deliver strong advice with complete compassion to the people who share their problems with him'.

“They also love him because he delivers viewing figures in excess of 1.5 million, dominates the morning slot across the channels and could churn out programmes until kingdom come.

“Others, however, are less impressed by Jeremy Kyle's contribution to British broadcasting. According to a long line of critics, the 41-year old former regional radio DJ is an utterly ruthless and cynical showman who exploits the vulnerable in the hunt for television ratings.

“The most frequently aired criticism of the show is that it is cruelly exploitative, taking advantage of vulnerable people who are paraded and goaded to perform in front of the cameras for the purposes of entertainment. The result, goes the argument, is bargain-basement television that appeals to the basest instincts of the audience. Of course, there is no doubt that this formula can result in compelling viewing, but critics would argue that just because people will slow down and crane their necks to look at the aftermath of a car crash, that doesn't make it right.

“For the benefit of anyone who hasn't had the chance to tune in to Kyle's daily offerings on ITV, consider the contents of this show.

“The words 'I think you should abort your baby!' flash on the screen as Kyle, spick and span in a suit, his brow permanently furrowed, bounces into view: 'Welcome to the Jeremy Kyle Show. We never treat any story lightly but our next guests are facing an issue that will split the audience and this country down the middle.'

“Chris and Charlotte, a couple in their 20s, troop on to the stage. We learn that they have been together for three years and have a 22-month-old son, and that Charlotte is pregnant again.

“The basic premise is that Chris doesn't want her to have the child because, 'it isn't fair to bring a kid into this environment where the parents are totally fighting'. Charlotte disagrees but, pressed by Kyle, reveals that her partner has been in prison, that he has been violent to her and that on one occasion he spat in her face and yelled: 'I hope your mum dies of cancer.' (In a telling aside, she adds that Chris only came on the show because 'they (the Kyle show) paid for his hotel room and his train fare'.
“Charlotte is then joined on stage by a friend called Chloe from whom we learn, in a moment that surely should have been cut from the pre-recorded programme, that Chris only learned of the pregnancy when he 'grabbed Charlotte’s boob and milk came out'.

“As passions inevitably rise, swear words are bleeped out and threats fly back and forth. Jeremy Kyle, meanwhile, swings between pretending to be 'above' the row and winding up the guests further: 'I am not going to take a stance because there are pro-lifers and people for abortion - but if you used contraception in the first place you wouldn't be in this situation.'

“But what does it all achieve? Not much. After their 15 minutes in the spotlight, Jeremy Kyle reaches the obvious conclusion that there is 'not much love between them', attacks them both for being 'senseless and thoughtless' and sends them on their way with the offer of some mediation. Problem solved.”
(Passages in quotes from Tom Rawstorne writing in the Daily Mail 28th July 2006)

Fortunately going on the Jeremy Kyle show isn’t compulsory. So why do people do it? Is it really just about that fifteen minutes of fame -- getting their faces on television?
Are they people whose life experience is so tilted towards invisibility that talk shows like Jeremy Kyle are a big shot of visibility? It looks, if only for a moment, that the guest owns this space.

It does not seem that “talk shows” like Jeremy Kyle’s, Jerry Springer’s or Oprah’s are interested in reflecting any sort of social reality, rather they highlight and trivialise society’s insatiable appetite for profit and fun.

But to return to an earlier question that I posed. How can talk shows, and it is primarily Jeremy Kyle that I am talking about, possibly be bad? Psychoanalysis tells us to talk. Talk about everything, our childhood, our crimes, our sex lives. So what’s the problem? There’s just something about the concept of people spilling their guts on national television that makes me squirm. I watched a whole week of Jeremy Kyle, because I knew that I was going to put this post together; thankfully, now it’s done, I don’t have to watch it anymore. Jeremy Kyle comes close to shedding tears for the people whose secrets he extracts, while simultaneously attacking them for revealing those same secrets. The line between the public and the private shifts strangely with a circus like gusto, in front of millions of people.

So, do we watch Jeremy Kyle for a laugh or for a jolt of recognition? There is certainly a sort of horrid fascination; like somebody defecating in public. Perhaps we really do deserve Jeremy Kyle. Michel Foucault talked about “the incitement to discourse”, that incessant demand that we have to tell everything.

Yes, Jeremy Kyle does exploit his guests, but he is providing a space for voice and visibility, albeit in a hollow, distorted way. The talk show tells us about people crazily in need of recognition -- even if it has to be achieved in an insanely loopy manner.

Defenders of the Jeremy Kyle show argue about democracy at work, flawed democracy, but democracy nonetheless, giving voice to ordinary folk, the disenfranchised, those who do not feel entitled to speak and the socially marginalized.

Ah, I see now, talk shows are not about entertainment for the masses, a 21st century equivalent of the Roman colosseum where the gladiators fought and performed  for the jeering crowd. Talk shows in general, and Jeremy Kyle in particular, are all about altruism.

Yeah, right!