Saturday, 17 December 2011

Cut above the rest...

Christian Tagliavini's show Cut Out & Keep has proved fascinating on many levels not least from the comments we receive at the gallery including the following daily questions: 

Q1: How does he lengthen the necks? 

Q2: Are they poking their heads through something?


1.Through an optical illusion without Photoshop using a 5x4 camera.

2. No

Donna Clotilde by Christian Tagliavini

Lunia Czechovska by Amedeo Modigliani

These questions interest me as if the artist had used any other medium like painting, etching, drawing etc. the lengthening of the neck would accepted & the meaning behind it would be more prevalent, not the way in which it was done. Why is this? Well in my humble opinion it is the faCt that people expect a 'truth' from photography although the distortion of the human body has been used time & time again throughout its history.

Eaton Place by Bill Brandt

Micheldever, Hampshire, 1948, November by Bill Brandt

Bill Brandt's distorted nudes cam about when a friend advised him to use a camera with a wide angle lens so that he could capture an entire room including the ceiling. When he used it & found that it distorted due to the lens, his most celebrated work took shape. The distortions although not originally intended were explored with amazing results to become icons of the genre. 

Distortion Number 40, Paris, 1933 by André Kertész 

André Kertész did it with mirrors.

And with swimming pools...

Víz alatti úszó, Esztergom, 1917 by André Kertész

Marilyn Monroe (plastic lens), c. 1960 by Weegee

Weegee did it with various methods initially with a lens he had devised for Weegee's New York, 1948. Then through further experimentation using translucent materials such as  textured transparent material or curved glass to create quite monstrous imagery in some cases as displayed here with the  beautiful goddess that was Marilyn Monroe.   

Seated woman in blue dress by Amedeo Modigliani

Back to the neck...
Modigliani did it to enhance a notion of elegance as is aspired to by many a woman, be their necks long or short...
It's all about the line. The grace that comes with accentuating the line of the body as a dancer would, extending each limb to create a flowing silhouette.

 Margot Fonteyn in Swan Lake, Sadlers Wells Ballet company, black and white photograph, about 1945

This demonstration of line is a classical pose by one of the worlds late great prima ballerina's, Margot Fonteyn (before she became a Dame).

More recent interpretations & efforts to modernise dance has led some companies to alter the ways in which they gesture in order to distance from the classic 'established' or 'establishment' or even 'old fashioned' or 'dated' posturing. This may take the form of more athletic styles, modern costumes & bare feet. 

However, the classical remains as it is embroiled in our notions of beauty & aesthetically pleasing forms of the body throughout art in all of its forms.

So back to the neck...

A prime example of a contemporary woman, often celebrated for her androgyny is the actress Tilda Swinton. Her chameleon-like appearance is utilised to the full by understanding how her body & features work in unison when certain attributes are focused upon. She can appear both masculine - due to her boyish yet tall physique (5' 10 1/2") - 7 feminine - with pale skin like marble & long lines - thus transforming into each role renewed  with a confidence that seems to come from the inside no matter what her role.  In these images her neck although lengthy naturally is emphasised through lighting her intensely, so as to make the tone of her skin match the simple blouse (unfussy & plain) with her hand pulling at the neck (again placing the notion of elongation in the viewers mind) & slight tilt of the head (to presume bending & stretching the neckline) & hair teased up skyward (again to add height) to great effect.   

Model: Tilda Swinton
                                                                Photographer: Glen Luchford

Sometimes the clothes do the exaggeration for you...

She revels in the 'oddness' of her appearance. Although not a pinup beauty, a beauty all the same with traditional healthy & wholesome, fresh faced appeal like that of a painting by..... Bronzino for example.

Agnolo Tori, detto il Bronzino
(Monticelli, Firenze 1503-Firenze 1572)
Ritratto di Eleonora di Toledo, 1543

The use of illusion in painting as well as photography is well documented. One of my first experiences of seeing painted illusion was at the Dali museum in Spain when I was 11. I couldn't believe that this work was created without more advanced technology than was available at the time.

Firstly look closely at the detailed painting, see many compositions within the square blocks & subtle pallette & Turner-like rendering of the background & sky. The religious iconography & Catalan patterns which can be seen all over Figures where he resided at the time. As Gala looks  out to the Mediterranean Sea, framed by a crucifix shaped portal, the notion of something else is ever present...  

Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko) by Salvador Dali, 1976.

Now stand about 2m away (yes but you are not viewing it full size so we can cheat a bit) from this & see how it becomes clearer as a portrait. In real life the finish & brushstrokes, (softness not visible here of course, backlit images on screens do have their limitations) of the paint breathes life into both images most spectacularly.

Here Dali creates a duality of works in one, a nude of his wife coupled with Abraham Lincoln's face, not to mention miniature works within both without computers, using his own brain not just Photoshop.  

So clothes back on & here we have another painting whose clothes inspired Tagliavini when creating another of his great Dame Di Cartone's. 

Series:Dame di Cartone, 
Title: 17th Century I
Christian Tagliavini

In particular the way in which the waist seemed to cut into the dress with a sharp point, each layer & line purposefully accenting the structure & weight of the expensive regalia. Whilst he was in London we went to see this painting amongst others in a wonderful display at The National Portrait Gallery. To read more about this painting please read here

Queen Elizabeth I
by Unknown artist
oil on panel, late 16th - early 17th century (circa 1559)
50 1/8 in. x 39 1/4 in. (1273 mm x 997 mm)
Purchased, 1978 
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Well I must return to my festive frivoliities...

So before I go, I would like to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays to you. Thanks for reading. More blogs soon I promise. Please post comments as I am always interested if my posts are capturing anyones imagination or informative, lacking or just plain amazing (I jest of course) as it you I write for. Eat, think & be Merry!


  1. Great post, thanks! I always enjoy interesting parallels and cross-discipline inspirations in art & photography. It also answered the question I was also wondering about the neck lengthening :-)

  2. Glad to hear it, really appreciate the feedback as many readers seem a bit shy, join in I say! Best Laura

  3. what an excellent and informative post. Thank you.