Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Jolie Laide...

Paint Dancer (a self-portrait)   oil/canvas   40 x 30 x 1.5
It is said that the French have an expression "jolie laide" that refers to unconventional beauty or an odd attractiveness.  (Literally it means "pretty ugly" which fails miserably in direct translation, as do most idioms). Other definitions have to do with personal grooming and other meaningless details.  I am guessing that this expression is more English than French in its origins and somewhat satisfies our desire to explain that amazing sense of enviable style possessed by the French.  For me, it implies much, much more....in fact, I give it my own meaning:  that of a combination of two polar opposites (beauty and ugliness), the combination of which provides soulfulness to our senses.  I am enamored with this notion and strive for it in my work.  The past has given us more than enough samples of paintings of beautiful women, beautiful bouquets and perfect-setting-sun landscapes.  Yawn.  It seems that many young male painters still perpetuate the notion that if-you-are-a-great-artist-than-you-will-paint-beautiful-women.  In this scenario, the work is then external, dependent upon the beauty of the sitter.  Yawn again.  For me, the paintings of tattooed bodies that lean more towards counterculture are a bit more interesting but still smack of surface value.  So, then, for me, a goal is to elevate the ordinary, to search for a bit of meaning and essence in the mundane and, hopefully, a bit of reaching inwards.  For this to occur, there must be, in my mind, a conjoining of the efforts of both the sitter as well as the painter. I am sticking my neck out here....a goal is just that....a goal....it is always striven for but not always reached.

This detail is from my self-portrait.  When shown at a critique, I was advised by more than one male artist to take out the evidence of aging, to make the portrait more narrowly youthful and beautiful.  But, I argued, that was the whole point of making the painting.  Several female artists were excited and supportive in my choice of what to include.  In my choice to honor the "jolie-laide", I have chosen to show my own self-portrait for fear that I might offend any of my other models.....for who wants to be jolie-laide in America?

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