There is little more exciting than the prospect of visiting somewhere new. Although America was not new to me, New York was indeed a place I had yet to enjoy. And there I was, standing in Manhattan, exploring the high rise architecture, learning about Rockerfeller, travelling to extreme heights, and investigating the Historical and Artistic worlds of this fine city. So much to excite me visually. So rich an area in shapes and forms and beautiful spaces. High rise, of course, but shining and glistening in the sunshine, layer upon layer of built up space.
But all I could do in my sketch book was write about my sadness in regard to uneven distribution of wealth. That there could be so many homeless people in an area so clearly financially prosperous. I know this is similar to any large city, and in fact it was punctuated for me even more by my travels a decade ago in Cairo. However, the extremes of poverty and wealth are so finely tuned in New York; so apparent and distressing. I found myself writing notes. Sometimes they became poems, sometimes scribbles. Frustrated conflict which argued that I must, must be conscious of this, and actively find ways to respond visually; to do something other than just to make another note to self. Equally I felt conflicted that I represented the rich and powerful. I was there travelling. I had the money for such luxuries and was living, eating, exploring without excessive consideration. How DARE I waste this experience by not enjoying every moment?
Thankfully I found an exhibition (amongst the 23 we visited during the week) in New York which helped me to shape these conflicting feelings into something concrete. ‘De-Formations’ in Bruce Silverstein’s gallery in the Chelsea area of New York resonated extremely well with where my thoughts were at the time we visited.
In 1933 André Kertész photographed two nude models in a carnival mirror as an assignment for the risqué publication Le Sourire. For a magazine often illustrated with erotic drawings, Kertész’s warped images of the female body slide away from the salacious and toward the unsettling.
The Distortions (originally titled Deformations by the artist), were made famous by the 1976 Knopf publication with an accompanying essay by Hilton Kramer. Kramer indentified Kertész’s radical manipulation of the human figure as more akin to work by Henry Moore, Picasso, Dali and Matisse than to images by photographers of Kertész’s generation. He writes, “The Distortions anticipate still further changes that do not show up in sculpture or painting until Giacometti’s work of the early forties, de Kooning’s Women of the late forties and early fifties, and Dubuffet’s Corps de Dames of 1950. It is in the company of such work that Kertész’s fecund photographic inventions will eventually find their proper place.
The distorted body parts, squashed against glass, sculptures of something slightly resembling a body, slumped, the images of reflections, knotted and twisted, these spoke to me. They said something; about how one person’s reality is utterly different to another’s. That without contemplating too deeply, the reality of my life and existence is profoundly removed from that of any other person, highlighted more effectively in the extremes. Rich vs poor. Tall vs short etc. The art work in this exhibition allowed my mind to explore the potential of working with distortion to express my own angst and distress at the sense of being part of a section of society that simply has too much. And I felt that I could express this more confidently in work which speaks about the unknown – that tackles the ‘space between’, the negative areas of the drawing, the unusual, unnatural and intentionally inaccurate. I was hugely inspired by the works in this exhibition, by artists such as Ana Mendieta, Bourgeois, Rona Pondick, Mapplethorpe, Arp, Carlsen, Gormley, Moore and David Smith.
I felt comfortable with the improbability and confusion; it resonated with how I felt.