A few days ago, I went to see the Dorothea Tanning Exhibition at the Tate Modern here in London, not really knowing much about her but having been bombarded by advertisements everywhere to go and see this!
The actual image they have been using on the posters and website for this exhibition didn't excite me at all as that sort of painting never does......it seemed very steile and not what I enjoy as a painter. Because I wanted to attend this event with unpredictable dialogue, I arranged this outing to be an event in the meetup group that I currently run and quite a few people turned out which was exciting.
(I will put in a note here, that I tend to have my friendliness misunderstood to be flirting by various men I encounter, who, perhaps use meetup in a different way than I do) That said, we can move on....
First of all, thank goodness it wasn't expensive which is a relief as the Tate Modern tend to charge more than necessary very often, probably due to the mass quantities of tourists in the city. Well, being on benefits, it's a bit of a challenge to maintain a life as an artist as I often can't afford to attend certain exhibitions due to the ridiculous high ticket prices! Luckily I spent very little.....an affordable £10 (only affordable due to using my credit card!).
So the exhibition itself tracks the seventy year career of Dorothea Tanning - 1910 to 2012. It says in the brochure that her work asks us to look beyond the obvious. Her earlier surrealist paintings have a lot of narrative that's not obvious or known to the viewer and does peak the curiosity to understand what is happening....with labels not often offering this information. Her use of symbolism is intriguing to say the least and definitely taps into a connection to the subconscious which ensures to generate dialogue which is why I wanted to attend this exhibition with others.
So Dorothea Tanning was an American painter and I didn't even know about her which is strange as I don't think she was even in my art history courses when I was a young art student at the Kansas City Art Institute way back in the 1990's! I remember her husband, Max Ernst very well as I loved his paintings but I never heard mention of Dorothea.
I love that she wanted to create her own spaces in her work.....I can sort of relate to that mindset as I do this a lot in my own practice. It doesn't matter what my living situation, once immersed into drawing, painting or sculpting, I'm in a world that is entirely the meaning of "home" to me.
So in the exhibition, first few paintings.....not very exciting as expected as they were tight and not fluid but the second room got fun! The first one that got my attention was of a door that divided a canvas in two with two figures on either side of the door (entitled, "Door 84").....it's fluid and there's so much movement in this piece. So apparently the door is a surrealist symbol: a portal to the unconscious (according to the brochure).
"Door 84" - above was where I started to consider liking this painter so this was a good start! The only strange thing about where they put this painting was that it was in a room full of paintings that the artist had painted decades before.....this Door 84 being painted in 1984. It's like the people who curated the exhibition couldn't decide where to put the paintings.....in order of when they were painted or in relationship to each other.......it was a little discombobulating. If I had an exhibition of everything I'd created from my whole life then I'd find it really odd if some of my later more recent work was mixed in with very early work.
As an artist myself, I feel that artwork has a narrative all of its own and that progression from start to finish is important in the development and understanding of the artist.....so yeah a bit weird, their curation of the show.
"The Philosophers" painted in 1952 was in the same room as "Door 84".....(room 2 and 3 are joined so you tell me how that reads to you in the progression of the artists development!)
Anyway, I lingered a while here at this painting, not because of the variety of activity in this piece but because of the way she painted the folded tablecloth which intrigued me as she made it so tactile.....I felt like I could feel it on my skin as that slippery silky folded cloth that I know it to be. The memories of those creases in that fabric that won't lie flat and held its own symbolism in the act of staying folded. This is something I'd like to revisit so I think I'll have to return to see this painting in person again to ruminate on this and see what develops.
"Insomnies (Insomnias)" painted in 1957 presumably when Dorothea and her husband Max had then moved to live in France.....she's painting that damned folded tablecloth again and before I read the description, I knew it already and from this was able to understand the previous painting.
In this painting here it says in the label, "Tanning intended our experience of this painting to unfold gradually. In it, the figure of a child - identifiable by a face at the centre - is depicted as disjointed body parts which seem to disappear and reappear amongst folds of cloth. Tanning explained her process: It was like a game, hiding and revealing my familiar images, floating them in mist or storms. I felt like a magician, just to bring these forms out of nothing with my brush and paint."
At the end of the label it states: "The title of the work suggests the anxiety of night-time wakefulness." which I think hits home for everyone!
Needless to say, it fascinates me.....and confounds me because of the memory of those folds yet again so I think another visit to this exhibition is in order.
"Heartless" painted in 1980.....a painting in nearly the last room.....I've left a great deal out but it would ruin it if you were intending to visit for yourself.
This painting was difficult to walk away from as there was too much that my brain wanted to try to unravel. Too many hidden meanings and unsaid words. I like what Dorothea says, "I don't see why one shouldn't be absolutely fascinated with the human form....we go through life in this wonderful envelope. Why not acknowledge that and try to say something about it? So what I try to say about it is transformation."
I'm still thinking about the exhibition as it has made an impact on me as a figurative painter and I am wondering how it will impact my own practice.
I think if you're here in London or nearby then you need to go to see this exhibition as it'll get you thinking.....which is good in this day and age of technology!
- Per usual, all red highlighted underlined words are links to related content.
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My name is Franceska McCullough and I'm the owner and artist of Toothpickmoon. Here I will share my studio practice in all it's forms.
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