State of the Arts – bodies

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

“Bodies!! I’m not an animal!” The Sex Pistols, Bodies

This blog is about discovering Albert Wainright and then ruminating on erotica and obscurity. I don’t know about you but I really need spring to arrive.

Visiting The Hepworth in Wakefield in Yorkshire I was treated to the watercolours, diaries, drawings, writing and set & costume designs of local artist Albert Wainwright. A contemporary of Henry Moore, Wainright was unable to attain any kind of international interest since he died suddenly on a bus from meningitis in 1947. A loss to be sure since someone of his enormous and diverse talent would be having a renaissance today with bearded Edwardian wannabe hipsters everywhere. Gay, brilliant and insightful (one of his diaries records his dread of the growing Hitler Youth movement in the 20s during a visit to Germany) his work is both erotically charged and filled with a luminescence. It was a love affair between viewer and artist right away.

The exhibit was tiny perhaps because there is only so much they can show due to his early death. Tiny or not, it wasn’t overwhelmed in the slightest by the enormous retrospective of photographer Phili-Lorca diCorcia. Once down in the thinly stocked gift shop, I inquired if there was a catalogue or book that I could purchase since I couldn’t leave without something in hand by this amazing discovery. I was able to snag the only three postcards the Hepworth had made. The gift shop keeper told me that there is one book entitled Albert & Otto which is a pictorial story about Albert’s love affair with a young German. She then told me that they don’t stock it because it is too racy for the shop and they get a lot of children browsing.

The offending book.
The offending book.

Wha? I wasn’t sure what to say because upstairs diCorcia’s work depicted life size photos of naked female pole dancers and gritty stylized photos of male prostitutes and some very dreary looking people naked in bathtubs and in other states of undress. They were great photos for sure but…. they were easily accessed by the many toddlers and parents with children I saw wandering around the gallery. In the gift shop however a book depicting fresh young love between a same sex couple was off limits even if it could be displayed on a top shelf somewhere. I pointed this out to the shop keeper and they shrugged, not their decision.

I won’t assume this is homophobia or jump to any kinds of incendiary conclusions, the Hepworth is a very good gallery and has a fairly sterling reputation, sexuality never an issue. I could only conclude that it was an oversight on somebody’s part or that the shop keeper spoke out of turn. Perhaps the age of the young men represented in some of Wainright’s work has also made some people uncomfortable. He didn’t seem to be drawing children to me. But you know, I am a person who is not sexually fixated so I miss pervy things all the time.

Back home and since it was still winter here, ‘sigh’, I huddled in front of my wood stove and thought about Albert and his obscurity. Life is for the living the saying goes and dying early can be as much a career killer as a career maker. While Egon Schiele, who painted in Vienna just a few years earlier died from the Spanish Flu a young man, his genius grew bigger with time. Albert however lived in Castleford, a small place with coal mining, not renown yet for art.

Schiele's nude woman hair dressing
Schiele’s nude woman hair dressing

Albert is still being discovered. His work is just as erotically charged but gay, and also something truly different, joyous. While Schiele makes one feel unease about bodies, Wainwright sings and dances through them. Both men show vulnerability in their people; gone are strident kings and queens or community leaders posing for their vanity portrait. The people we see in these men’s work are delicate, self conscious, sexual, and aching for freedom. Bodies we relate to.

During this particular winter it has been hard to remember one’s own body. When in Yorkshire where there was sun and warmth I was able to unleash some of my skin to the atmosphere while outside on a picnic on the moors. Looking at my blue/white flesh I felt mortal by the sun and wind touching me. These moments of spring slowly erupting around us  always makes me feel vulnerable – life perpetuating I guess. Or, could it be that I become more aware of my body again, reminding me of that intricate vessel which houses all my thoughts, dreams, pleasures and neurosis, the “body electric” Whitman spoke of as it takes part in the ‘procession of the universe with it’s perfect relentless motion’.

Pictures from Amazon and Google Images

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