Artistic Mystery and the Great Surge of Creative Dance

 

Claudia Kusznirczuk

Dance has been contemplated and painted by a number of artists over time and each has its own distinct style whether realistic, imaginary or simply naive.  However, it is not only important to learn and be inspired by previous works of art, but also contemporary artists and works depicting unique forms.  One contemporary artist that captures my attention and enlightens my vision of form and motion is Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.   She presents a unique view and personality in her works that provide enhancements to my work in the ‘Dance in Nature’ theme.   In a similar way, there will be a review and comparison to another notable contemporary artist, Chris Ofili.   


By way of background, Ofili and LYB set forth a new acceptance and path in art for ethnics and women.  Most prominently, in 2016, Ofili and LYB were selected by the BBC as one of top 10 British artists ‘Black and British’ to proclaim and celebrate the countries forgotten black art history and their contributions.1  Looking back into art’s nepotic past to see the misconceptions and whitewashing of artistic myths.  Contrary to liberal notions, history emphatically shows that art was not a free flow of creativity, boundless freedom and flush with non-discriminatory attitudes, but was basically dominated by white males and secondary society art and artists were viewed as inferior.  Yes, ‘Whoever Heard of a Black Artist?’2  documented in a recent UAL research for BBC program3 airing to add further evidence to the struggles in the art world of not only acceptance of one’s art, but of one’s being within art.  
 

The premise of this document is not to discuss the struggles and final acceptance of a class of society in art although these needed to be mentioned in the context of things, but these artists were selected to draw comparisons and similarities of their works to my artistic endeavours and style.


LYB is a model for female artists with her success as a woman in a relatively male-dominated art world.  A British painter and writer renowned for her portraits of fictitious African-American subjects painted using natural earthy colours.  Her style has contributed to a revival in black figure art.   In 2013, she was awarded the Turner Prize in recognition of her great work, thereby securing her place among the most renowned painters of this generation.4  Her work spans and bridges the classical and the contemporary with individual figures in different settings, postures and various stages of motion, including dance. There is a grace, elegance and sophistication in the perceived motion of the painted figures.  LYB provides visual delight in her works by utilizing a nondescript background and highlighting a singular naturally postured image.  She blends the colours of the background so that the image melts into the artwork always appearing relaxed, assured and natural.  
 

LYB’s first solo exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland in 2016,5 was a pinnacle moment in her career, which finally put focus on her artistic achievements and turned heads in the way that her art was viewed by the world.   This exhibition defined LYB’s ascension to fame, not just simply through the paintings exhibited but in the way the works were presented to the viewers.   Figures and characters seem to come to life and look poised to move and dance. Each portrait represents one person, they are generally exhibited in groups of painting arranged like family portraits.


Her selection of dark tone colours evokes strong psychological overtones, creating a feeling of stillness and intrigue in placing the principle subjects in a natural backdrop.  Subjects are portrayed in a fictional way using a range of traditional poses, stances and postures like reading, walking, lounging, dancing and resting.    


Plain and basic elements of LYB paintings strive to keep her work and subjects from association with a particular time or era.  Images are timeless and imminently contemporary, yet there are visages of past times.   A further technique that promotes this timeless notion and a prominent trademark of her work, is that the subjects do not have any footwear to avoid dating or time stamping of the images, thereby allowing the viewers to relate the images to the present and to bias the period.   This barefooted-natural feature shows the subject’s closeness to the earth and melding of the background colours.  Most portrayed figures seem to be floating in front of an earthy, mysterious and abstract dark hue background.  Critics have commented that the mystical backdrops are reminiscent of Degas and Velasquez, but in fact the unfocused background allow the viewers to look into a never-ending expanse.6
 

My intended focus in her works is to comprehend the technique that she employs and utilizes in drawing the forms in dance pose and motion, particularly the attention to the natural flow and elegance of the fictitious images.  The composite features and facial renditions of the fictitious persons are effectively employed to allow all viewers to visualize someone familiar or similar to the viewer.  Purposely lost is the pretentious complexity in much of the contemporary art, where there is often difficulty deciphering an artist’s thoughts, whereas LYB brings art closer to a simplified, natural and basic elemental human form.

Claudia Kusznirczuk, ‘Hot’, 2019 

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, ‘The Hours Behind You’, 2011

In my painting titled ‘Hot', the opposite effects are employed in a certain contrast to LYB.   The main focus is the vast natural background and the images serve as a distant interruption of the serene nature.  Unlike the prominent figures of LYB’s works, the backdrop is the main focus of my art and figures become an alien but integral part of the background, yet blending in harmony with the surroundings.   A vibrant array of colours emphasise the setting in contrast to the earthy tones used by LYB. 

 

In ‘Hot,’ the dancers are placed in the distance, seemingly like illusions or mirages set against an exotic and mystical landscape and are not the main focus of the work.  The images of the figures appear in striking pose, springing into dance and growing in a viewer’s concentrated eyes.  Gestures and interactions are combined with the sense that we are witnessing a longing or desire.   It could be a longing for the wild side of life, a desire of being in the full exposure of the wilderness exploring the forces of nature that influence and dictate the distortion of the dancers’ bodies or it could be just a wish of finding some sort of identity in the wild.  Dancers are weightless but bound to the earth of strong orange colour creating the appearance of camouflage or blending with nature.

The main differences between LYB’s art and my art are more with figure size and dimension. There is a strong correlation and commonality in the basic elements of (dance) images in natural surroundings.  We are both striving to embrace nature’s natural images in opposite dimensions, but we seem to echo a similar message in our own profound styles.

Claudia Kusznirczuk, ‘Infinity’, 2019

(Work in Progress)                                               

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, ‘Shoot the Desperate, Hug the Needy’, 2010

Comparatively ‘The Infinite Touch’ shows two dancers covertly displayed in a symbolic pose of infinity, a joining of two forms in a never-ending loop, rooted into the ground and into nature itself.  Similarly, the work from LYB titled ‘Shoot the Desperate, Hug the Needy’ proclaims of an intangible, but binding connection, rooted in the earthy background. 

 

Another artist with a fascination of nature and focused on heritage and cultural links using animal byproduct is Chris Ofili.  Considered a part of the Young British Artists movement, he studied at the Royal College of Art and he was the first black artist to win the Turner Prize in 1998.  Ofili was able to finally break the discrimination barriers and incestuous traditions of the art world.   

 

He is best known for utilizing elephant dung in many of his paintings and around his canvas as decorative features.   I first saw his unique artwork in Vienna, Austria at a contemporary art show at the Kunsthalle Wien in 2007.   It was the use of the elephant dung that left a lasting impression and is recognized as a signature of his work.  No stranger to controversy, his dung smeared and sordid portrayal of sacred figure titled ‘The Holy Virgin Mary’ created a scandal with the Catholic church and was strongly opposed by then New York Mayor Mr. Rudi Giuliani.7

Chris Ofili, ‘The Holy Virgin Mary’, 1996

The natural products used, evoke a sense of creativity and symbolically represent his ancestral past.   Ofili has created a unique nuance and style to distinguish his art from the countless other artists, presenting a biological aspect, showing nature with nature’s byproducts.   Ofili lends flair for the exotic and erotic.  Elephant dung, coupled with the lively tropical settings in his art, compares suitable to the theme and style pervasive in my artwork.

 

His imagery and images are brilliant, electric and bombastic; the stereotypical exotic black female figures proudly displayed on his canvases are actual persons from his own personal past sexual experiences during the hip-hop culture period.  His female portrayals are a mimic of Picasso’s female depictions in some respect.  The uses of colours are warm, relaxing and inspired by the colourful Caribbean landscape and from past and popular culture.   Critical in my works, the background is also of great importance to Ofili, and since 2005, Trinidad and Tobago provide the perfect setting to interpret nature’s creativity. 

Ofili, ‘Dance in Shadow’, 2008

The darkish and mysterious works titled ‘Dance in Shadow’ presents the subjects and the surroundings in simple forms and shapes clothe in a shadowy array of colours.   Dance figures seem oblivious of each other and dance in a sort of silent abandon.  Their savage African hair and clothing merge in shades of colour to form a leafy cloak.  Ofili plays with the silhouettes and shadows, drawing a comparison in style and intent to a number of my dance silhouettes dangling in a distance scene under a dimming light.  

 

My works titled ‘Amazon Dancers’ and ‘Moonlight Dance’ contrast to Ofili’s figurative dance images, as my tropical landscapes and the dancers are imaginary and his tropical landscapes include mostly real people and impressions. 

Claudia Kusznirczuk, ‘Amazon Dancers’ 2019               

Claudia Kusznirczuk, ‘Moonlight Dance’, 2019

In “Amazon Dancers” it is implied that the figures are integrated with nature and dancing to the wilds.  The costumes reflect the style of the indigenous Brazilian Native Amerindians of a topical land.  Vibrant and lively colours are used in the plumage of the costumes bringing contradiction and harmony with the landscape.  The figures as with LYB’s and Ofili’s work, seem to be in a dream or trance.

Ofili, ‘After the Dance’, 2006

In comparison to ‘After the Dance’, ‘Moonlight Dance’ features a minuscule group dancing on the beach against the fading moon and pending darkness in similar colour tones.   The dimming light of night both obscures and enhances my imagination.   I rely on the moonlight and the rapid movement of the dancers jumping in the air to capture the spontaneity of the moment.  Coincidently, Ofili accurately describes the vision of my work:

 

 “The moonlight reflects off moist surfaces. Most of what you think you see, it’s not actually what’s in front of you. And if the mind is in a particular state, you’ll open up the possibilities of what you’re seeing, which may be purely imagined.’’8, however, this quote was intended to describe his work.

Ofili, ‘Lazarus (Dream)’, 2007

Ofili, ‘Raising of Lazarus’, 2007

Ofili usually visits a select spot numerous times to paint the landscape in a different view, light and weather several times over as exemplified in ‘Lazarus (Dream)’ and ‘Raising of Lazarus’.  When asked the reason for the repetitive works, Ofili declared that “when you’re there, there’s so much going on, so much sound and wind and motion9 so there is always an ever-shifting and changing scene.  

Ofili, ‘Doyen’s Dance’, 2007                                        

Malick Sidibe “Nuit de Noel’, 1963, photograph

Ofili produces work directly from real images and actual sources.   It is important for Ofili to be in the middle of the inspirational landscape.  This distinction shows his care for traditional methodology and ability to contemplate the basic natural elements in his work.  His depictions of figures and forms are not detailed, but off focus similar to the images shown in my landscape with image works.

 

The elemental styles of Ofili and LYB assimilate and are comparable to my style, tone, imagination and visage.  Having not intimately known the artists before this project, there is a feeling of admiration and kinship to these artists.  It must be stated that although each of us are similar in some respect and focus on subjects of dance, culture and environment, we are each striving towards in differing artistic direction and perfections.

Bibliography:

 

  1. Molly Tresadern. Ten black British artists to celebrate | Art UK.  (23, November 2016). Retrieved from (https://artuk.org/discover/stories/ten-black-british-artists-to-celebrate

  2. BBC Four - Whoever Heard of a Black Artist? Britain's Hidden Art History. Rasheed Araeen, Lubiana Himid, Yinka Shonibare, The BLK Art Group and Althea McNish. (2018).  Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bcy4kd

  3. UAL Black Artists & Modernism research to air on BBC Monday 30 July | UAL Retrieved from https://www.arts.ac.uk/about-ual/press-office/stories/ual-black-artists-and-modernism-research-to-air-on-bbc-monday-30-july

  4. LYB, Natures, Natural and Unnatural, (Whitechapel Gallery, 2015).

  5. LYB, Natures, Natural and Unnatural, (Whitechapel Gallery, 2015).

  6. Natalie Bell and Massimiliano Gioni, LYB Under-Song For a Cipher, (New Museum, 2016).

  7. Benjamin Sutton. Chris Ofili Painting, Once Called "Degenerate" by Trump, Gifted to Museum of Modern Art by Trump Supporter. (April 19, 2018).  Retrieved from https://hyperallergic.com/438723/Ofili-ofili-holy-virgin-mary-gifted-museum-modern-art

  8. Judith Nesbitt, Ofili, (Tate Publishing, 2010).

  9. Judith Nesbitt, Ofili, (Tate Publishing, 2010).

 

 

References:

 

Natalie Bell and Massimiliano Gioni, LYB Under-Song For a Cipher, (New Museum, 2016).

 

LYB, Natures, Natural and Unnatural, (Whitechapel Gallery, 2015).

 

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.  Artnet.com. Retrieved from http://www.artnet.com/artists/LYB-yiadom-boakye/

 

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Tate.Org.net. Retrieved from https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/LYB-yiadom-boakye-16784

 

Judith Nesbitt, Ofili, (Tate Publishing, 2010).

© Claudia Kusznirczuk.