Last Sunday we decided to visit Tate Liverpool to catch up on their latest exhibitions. The main show at the moment is devoted to the work of two artists who lived at the opposite ends of the 20th Century – Egon Schiele the American photographer Francesca Woodman. As usual for the paid exhibitions at the Tate, no photographs allowed inside.
Lately, Tate Liverpool has had a tendency to have joint exhibitions, trying to show connections between different artists. In this case, the Tate’s website tells us that
Both artists are known for their intimate and unapologetic portraits, which look beneath the surface to capture their subjects’ emotions. Schiele’s (1890–1918) drawings are strikingly raw and direct. He had a distinctive style using quick marks and sharp lines to portray the energy of his models. Woodman used long exposures to create blurred images that captured extended moments in time. Her photographs can be surreal, humorous and at times painfully honest.
The close encounter between these two exceptional artists offers an intense viewing experience and a new perspective on their personal and powerful works.
Most of the reviews I’d seen before our visit questioned the relevance of this pairing and I have to say that it was difficult to see what the justification was. They both had short careers, dying young (Schiele from Spanish flu in 1918 when he was 28 and Woodman taking her own life when she was only 22) and their works concentrated on portraying the human body. But there were more differences than similarities. It wasn’t so much that the media they worked in – Schiele created paintings and drawings while Woodman was a photographer – but the nature of the work. Woodman’s photographs almost always take her own body as the subject while although Schiele painted and drew some self portraits, particularly early in his career when he couldn’t afford to hire models, these were a minority of his oeuvre. And the biggest difference for me is that Schiele’s work is intensely erotic while although Woodman is naked in her photographs they are not in the least sexual.
Still, that didn’t spoil if for me. I guess that mentally I saw it as two separate exhibitions that just happened to be intermingled with alternate sections devoted to each artist. I’d seen an exhibition devoted to Schiele at the Courtauld 3 years ago and so although it was interesting to see another large selection of his work I particularly enjoyed discovering Francesca Goodman’s photographs.
There was a large selection of drawings and paintings by Schiele, covering his entire career. He was
A master draughtsman, he is known for his erotic depictions of women and himself. He depicted his subjects in unconventional poses, with expressive faces – ranging from anguished to climactic – and with an emphasis on the hands, which were often greatly exaggerated. (exhibition guide)
Even today his drawings and paintings are quite shocking – some of the works included in the exhibition were very explicit. It’s hard to appreciate just how controversial they must have seen when they were first displayed. In my post about the Courthauld exhibition I commented that although his work is technically brilliant, I felt some unease about their subject matter in the explicit way he portrayed his female models. I felt the same at the Tate.
This is one of his milder sketches
I was interested to see how his work started to change towards the end of his career. He still concentrated mainly on drawing naked women, but his style became more naturalistic, less angular and more rounded, with bodies sketched out with just a few strokes of his pencil.
I wonder how his style would have progressed if he hadn’t died so young.
Francesca Wood man was a very prolific artist, mainly taking small scale black and white photographs featuring her naked body. But, as I mentioned above, they were not intended to be erotic or sexual. She used long exposure times and soft focus and many of the pictures incorporate blurred figures. She incorporated objects such as furniture, wallpaper and plants, concealing parts of her body,
and sometimes used materials such as sellotape and clothes pegs to distort her body.
Her compositions were clearly influenced by the Surrealists and some of the photographs in the exhibition reminded me of the work of Man Ray.
As is too often the case, she wasn’t commercially successful during her tragically short lifetime, her photos being rejected by galleries and she failed in an attempt to get involved in fashion photography. This combined with the failure of her personal relationship, and, no doubt, other issues, led to her committing suicide when she was only 22, on 19 January 1981.