Sunday, 24 June 2018

Life in Motion: Francesca Woodman / Egon Schiele at Tate Liverpool

Kirsty Buchanan finds a compelling sense of urgency connecting these two very different artists.

I was very excited to see this exhibition as I love an unusual pairing of artists. Sometimes it takes just one other artist to completely transform the context of another, it is like watching an 'in conversation' but more ambiguous. I also love the serenity of Tate Liverpool, maybe because of all the windows looking out over the water. Sadly they decided to board up the windows for this exhibition, which is a shame as the other exhibitions I’ve seen on the top floor are only enriched by the diffused light.

I like the work of both artists and although it might be tempting to look for visual or biographical similarities, I feel that it is irrelevant when you see how visually complementary the works are together. 

Egon Schiele, Standing Male Nude, 1908

The exhibition has clusters of work by both artists in a loose chronology and begins with Schiele’s drawings. My favourite was Standing Male Nude, 1908. I love the sincerity of all of his drawings yet this one seems less stylised and as an ardent advocate for life drawing I find this drawing brilliant. His drawings confidently exclaim what he clearly finds most interesting such as, hair, fingers, nipples and pink cheeks.

A focus on the domestic emanates from both of their work, Woodman is quite explicit about this but with Schiele it is more subtle, the intensity of how the figures are depicted only draws attention to the absence of background which makes me think of bed sheets or white walls. One outstanding similarity is a focus on point of view, each makes use of domestic objects such as mirrors and ladders to find a particular perspective.

The subject of self portrait is prominent but not overtly so, it seems that urgency is most important. In Woodman’s words 'It’s a matter of convenience, I’m always available', there is a clear need to take a photograph or make a drawing but with limited resources. Both artists' works have that sense of speedy depiction about them. In Schiele’s self portraits it is clear that with use of a mirror he is trying to discover something about the human body. Woodman places mirrors as props in her set-ups, possibly alluding to the self-portrait. 

Egon Schiele, Self Portrait in Crouching Position, 1913, 
Gouache and graphite on paper, 323 x 475 mm, Moderna Museet / Stockholm

In one portrait of a woman by Schiele, he draws her nipple as a spiral, affirmation that there was such a tight connection between his eye and the end of his pencil and how felt his line is. I noticed a similar interest in curved lines with Woodman and a connection with the beautiful eel photograph, which is also 'felt' in the way she uses the slippery and curved form of the eel to draw parallels to the curves of her own body. Both artists were prolific and their drawings and photographs were made up of speedy actions. That urgency has a melancholy significance, when with hindsight we know that their lives ended prematurely.

Francesca Woodman, Eel Series, Roma, May 1977- August 1978

Life in Motion: Francesca Woodman / Egon Schiele is at Tate Liverpool until 23 September 2018

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