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Melanie Blumsom Art Portfolio (Part 1)
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Melanie Blumsom Art Portfolio (Part 1)

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My Art Portfolio (Part 1) A-Level Coursework: examining the depiction of women in Art History, Feminism and ideas relating to female identity.

My Art Portfolio (Part 1) A-Level Coursework: examining the depiction of women in Art History, Feminism and ideas relating to female identity.

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  • 1. Melanie Blumsom's Art Portfolio
  • 2. A-Level Coursework The Depiction of Women In Art History and Feminism For my A-Level Coursework project I decided to explore the topic of Feminism and the depiction of women in Art History. Initially I was drawn to the theme of the human body, particularly women's because of the importance surrounding them promoted by our society. I was interested in ideas relating to the female identity, how they are currently and historically significant, and also how they personally influence me as a woman. I began discussing with my teacher my starting points and themes, outlined in this image taken from my portfolio. I searched for artists who challenged women’s roles, who were relevant to my theme, whose style I admired and hoped would inspire me. I envisaged my goal to make a visual body of work reflecting my research, ideas that resonated with me and investigating thought processes that would lead me to my final piece.
  • 3. Pencil study from primary source I wanted to reflect my experience of the world as a female, similar to the great Feminists. Artists I found connected to my theme well included Frida Khalo, Jenny Saville, Paula Rego, Alice Neele, Tracey Emin and Georgia O'keefe. I began documenting my perception of the people around me to build up ideas relating to my individuality as a woman, to reflect my mirror image and cultural identity. As one of my starting points I studied Khalo more closely, and took inspiration from her self portraits, which portrayed the "experience of self/world around at a new conscious level". I began recording impressions of the people around me, shown in these initial pencil tone sketches. Pencil drawings
  • 4. Acrylic paint and pencil studies from primary sources I continued my rough observational studies, depicting various facial features at different angles, that connected with my reality and daily interactions. Working from first hand observational studies of family, and photos of myself, I began to strengthen my drawing skills. I practiced my ability to shade and tone the contours of the face accurately, and create a realistic image. I experimented with scale and medium to assess the different results produced.
  • 5. Pencil drawing from secondary source My research involved finding images of women in magazines, on the internet and photos of mine. I chose images that I felt conveyed emotion, as they were striking and stirred a reaction from me as the viewer. I continued building my shading techniques and learning how to understand facial proportions helped me become confident expressing emotion within the subject I was drawing. For my preliminary sketches I worked from images I had collected during my research surrounding the feminist movements, those that had particularly expressive faces that suggested a strong emotion. In my drawings I wanted to creating a life-like portrait while capturing the feelings the subject is experiencing. I focused on the details in the eyes, and attempted to reflect a sadness, despair and other feelings. I practiced sketching my own profile with different expressions in order to have an idea of which worked for my theme, and portrayed the sentiment I wanted to. Juan Francisco Casas “Trine After Hours” study in biro pen
  • 6. I trialled enlarging my observational studies, which I felt showed an expression of emotion and psychological state. I experimented with different scale for impact, colour for depth and medium for texture. I liked working on a large scale as it gave me more freedom, and I found the overall effect was more striking. I wanted my image to send a message to the viewer as works by feminists I researched aimed to do. Observational study in acrylic paint, working from self profile
  • 7. I am explored different mediums to trial which results I found to be most successful. I used watercolour to paint my own portrait and first hand observations of family members. I discovered I was not as confident using watercolour as I found it difficult to control and rectify mistakes. The softer colours were difficult for me to build up to create impact without appearing too animated. I concluded I preferred the flexibility and expressive quality of acrylic paint and decided to continue developing my strength focusing on this medium. Watercolour paintings from primary sources
  • 8. Lucien Freud copy in acrylic paint First hand observational studies in pencil
  • 9. As my project progressed I began visiting galleries to collect more research and scope for creativity. I sketched a Pank Hurst piece from observation, and later painted a second attempt. At this stage I analysed further male depictions of women such as Gustav Klimt, Titan, Ingres and Lucien Freud to provide a diversity of perspective to my project. I learnt traditionally women were the focus of male admiration and painted in romanticised, sexual manner, with breasts emphasised and face subdued, to signify serenity and subservience. In my research I found Titian and Ingres were examples of the "male gaze" and whose works appeared an erotic projection of how men fantasised about women's beauty. I gained insight into women's roles historically, and how they were confined into this conventional position of being sexual entities, with emphasis on their bodies rather than their identities. In my exploration of the Feminist movements I learned due to gender discrimination women's point of view was very much unrepresented, which resulted in no true representation of women visually or reality of feminine experience. Pank Hurst studies in acrylic paint and pencil
  • 10. Research notes from my sketchbook on Jenny Saville and plastic surgery: Jenny Saville addresses how we feel obligated to change ourselves through cosmetic surgery and dieting, due to "internalised hatred" and superficial absorption in our exterior, which has defined femininity historically. She challenged the current consumer lifestyle, our compliance to stereotypes of flawless perfection and wanted to explore different interpretations of women's bodies. I felt she may also be protesting against the conformity of realistic or romantic painting in classical art such as the Renaissance's women, Rubens erotic, voluptuous look and the fashions of the 19th century. She questions modern culture and the digitally modified images in media, asking what defines beauty and at what cost will it take to achieve it. Jenny Saville study in acrylic paint For this Jenny Saville style portrait, paint proved the best medium for achieving successful results because I enjoyed using the boldness of it to create vibrant flesh tones and emotional depth. As she based her painting on her own distorted self I attempted to recreate it, sketching alternative face shapes to that which is currently considered attractive. I used different concave mirrors to sketch my portrait as I wanted to capture an expression of contortion/ discomfort, not for the purpose of admiration. I intended to enlarge different parts of my face and exaggerate the fat proportions to mirror common insecurities felt by women.
  • 11. Charcoal drawings of self Sketch book page
  • 12. I worked to try to gain an understanding of Jenny Saville's perspective, and her view on how women are perceived through modern stereotypes. I discovered her concern with body image issues, and how her fascination with the human body affected her art work. She included surgical photographs of liposuction, trauma victims, deformity correction, disease states and transgender patients. Saville objected to how women were painted by men, who could not get the "core essence of women, instead concentrating on outward beauty". In this piece I am exploring how Jenny Saville reflects feelings of awkwardness and selfconsciousness in painting, her use of the figures in ungainly shapes with remote faceless heads emphasises the flesh. I was interested in her "passion about human flesh" and how she paints to give the women's bodies a vibrant quality. I found painting on thick brown paper I could accomplish this effect better than white paper because it didn't absorb too much of the paint and resulted in a stronger, more intense range of colours, which I liked. In this composition I think she is alluding to the idea of women as "pieces of meat" or cattle, in other words satirising the conventional female appearance and our obsession with physical perfection. Jenny Saville ”Fulcrum” study in acrylic paint
  • 13. Sketch book page Jenny Saville “Branded” study. Observational studies in acrylic paint, coloured pencil and sketching pencil tone
  • 14. I also studies Paula Rego's and her vibrant pastel pieces "Dancing Ostriches". I worked directly with Rego's colour palette, practicing with the blending of chalk pastel tones. Rego was an important part of my research as she influenced modern movements e.g. avant garde feminism. She was significant in the direction of women's representation, interrogating assumptions of beauty and attempting to redefine it. I was interested in her piece "Dog Women", where she appears to be challenging the concept of subservient women being animalistic, but with a positive perspective. "Every women is a dog women, not downtrodden, but powerful." The work I focused on generally depicted fuller female bodies in provocative, positions, suggesting a divergence from the idealistic definition of beauty. Paul Rego's “Dancing Ostriches” study in chalk pastel
  • 15. On this sketchbook page I was exploring contemporary ideals of beauty, changing fashions of body shape and how women are presented. I learnt of the continuing emphasis on a thin figure similar to models and celebrities, and how it is seen as a manifestation of happiness, power and success. This view is evidently promoted by men and endorsed by the media. I drew comparisons between this view and women's original performance as a sex symbol. A question I raised at this stage in the development of my project was "why do women mentally crave such an unachievable illusion at the expense of their individuality and health?" I wanted to discuss where the attention on conforming to an idealistic appearance derived. I found the expectation to maintain such an unhealthy size can cause a disturbed or distorted body image and insecurities in many women. I felt the importance placed on vanity and physical perfection by our society through advertising is an artificial way to achieve personal value. I sketched a life size shop manikin to get an understanding of the "exemplary" form presented to women. I used chalk pastel as was practiced to imitate Paul Rego's women, as I wanted to gain more familiarity with the material. I applied patches of colour to show flesh tones and bring it to life. I used charcoal to sketch my form as I wanted to express inner turmoil or insecurities, similar to the artists I had earlier studied. I used the position of my body and particular medium to this time exaggerate the bones and skeletal appearance pursued by women now. I liked how the charcoal created a dark, sombre image, and leaving white spaces highlighted angular edges. Observational studies in acrylic paint, charcoal and chalk pastel
  • 16. In the hope of giving a more genuine representation of the female body I studied an intense Life Drawing Class, where I learned to interrogate nude life studies and build my observational skills in relation to human dimensions. It also gave me the opportunity to experiment with different proportions and colour. The class helped me understand first hand the reality of the un-airbrushed or digitally enhanced female form. It helped me to portray the reality of female bodies in all shapes and sizes, in contrast to the media's customary depiction of women as "object de luxe", which was my objective.variance of women's bodies. Here I used oil pastel to study the subjects figure. I often found it a challenge to keep an accurate perspective in my drawing, which led me to respect the difficulty of lifedrawing. I enjoyed experimenting with deep purples, reds, and browns to build flesh tones. To keep the process within the time frame allowed I needed to work quickly, spending less time on details and more on the overall image. I often did not have time to shade the figure as completely as I would have liked, so left white areas to reflect light, which at first felt unnatural to me but subsequently I felt worked quite well. These constraints improved my speed and time management, which would help prepare me for my exam. Observational study in oil pastel
  • 17. “Adam” by Michaelangelo study in acrylic paint . I continued to look to improve my ability to paint skin tones. I researched Michelangelo as he was a good example of a male artist who sculpted the human form in a technically accurate way and painted it with expertise. I greatly admired his work as there were several layers of meaning and stories behind his subjects, with references to mythology and religion, which I found intriguing. I copied an enlarged portion of "Adam" using acrylic paint, observing the definition of the male torso and considering how proportions and perspective changes with different positioning. I preferred to use various colours in patches, rather than blending too neatly. This with a combination of rough, brown paper I found achieved my desired impact, emphasising skin shades and texture.
  • 18. My Critical Study
  • 19. My Critical Study
  • 20. My Final Piece I chose to use acrylic paint as my primary medium because I had practiced it to the point I was satisfied with my ability to produce a good result. I enjoyed the freedom of painting, and the intense quality the paint gave me to express the passion I wanted to convey in my piece. In addition I layered oil pastel for parts of the background, once it had dried. I did this to add the figures, to give veiled elements of meaning in the composition. I also found it useful to highlight certain features and give more definition and colour. Acrylic paint and oil pastel
  • 21. For my Final Piece I wanted to create an unique expression of myself, drawing parallels to motifs typical of the Feminist artists I had researched, influences such as Khalo, Rego and Saville. The structure of my piece was predominantly inspired by the original feminist Frida Khalo, in the way she used her art to represent her identity as a female. Frida's work was a reaction to her society and she showed an understanding of the issues that affected women including social roles and sexuality. I liked the idea of layering ideas pictorially within the composition, incorporating symbols that depicted stories of my personal situation, and that could be open to interpretation and debate by the viewer. Jenny Saville's themes were relevant to myself as a female as I am directly influenced by the attitudes towards women's body shapes because of the importance imposed on it by societies collective opinions and the media. I therefore intended to take the contemporary themes I had investigated through Jenny Saville that affected women such as body image issues and psychological suffering, and reflect my experience of the world as a woman, just as many feminists have done historically. In conclusion I feel that my assignment was successfully planned as I had a clear objective at the beginning and ensured I researched my idea thoroughly. I felt that the progression from my starting point to my final idea flowed well. I experimented with different techniques and mediums for example: pastel, charcoal, pencil, watercolour and acrylic. This helped me to identify my strengths and weaknesses, and which could achieve the effect I desired. I practiced making first hand observations that I had previously found challenging until I became more confident. I gave myself the opportunity to build my drawing skills and analysis of the female form by joining a life drawing class, so I had a better knowledge of the specific subject area I was working with. I drew inspiration from the styles of key artists that related to my theme which helped me connect my ideas. I learnt to convey emotional depth through my art and record my experiences in an expressive visual way. Overall I was satisfied with the volume and quality of my work, and this was recognised in the A grade (100%) I achieved for the project.