A FEMALE POP PIONEER
Ask someone about Pop Art, and the names put forward as examples will probably be Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and, perhaps, Jeff Koons.
A less familiar artist in the same broad genre was the Belgian Evelyne Axell (1935-1972), a prolific and provocative mixed-media artist who began her creative life as an actress.
My readers know that I have more than a passing interest in female artists https://www.artfullyabstractedblog.com/post/female-artists-and-abstraction
together with an antipathy to the prudish and numbing effects of censorship on the arts https://www.artfullyabstractedblog.com/post/the-nude-ambivalence-and-censorship-from-michelangelo-to-mapplethorpe . Today's article will hark back to those two earlier posts and hopefully shed some light on an interesting, even iconic twentieth-century artistic figure.
Created in oil paint, a zip fastener and a helmet mounted on canvas, Evelyne Axell's VALENTINE (1966) hangs in the Tate Modern Gallery in London. It is a piece which I much enjoy.
VALENTINE (1966) - Evelyne Axell
In VALENTINE, Axell namechecks the first Soviet female cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, combining the homage to her with a representation, perhaps, of the erotically-charged greeting of a woman to her lover on Valentine's night. The stance of the figure is slinky and languorous, the zippered white bodysuit is suggestively and enticingly opened, indicating carefully painted details of the woman's body; the floating helmet (actually a toy one) to the left introduces a fetishistic kink. The painting, though modern in outlook and daringly progressive, also embodies a paradoxically demure classical poise.
Evelyne Axell was one of the first Belgian Pop Artists, having cut her teeth under the mentorship of none less than the great surrealist René Magritte. To aid her ascendance, she at one point adopted the androgynous moniker 'Axell', and became the first female artist to produce and exhibit her own nude self-portrait, LE PEINTRE, in 1970.
In an age when many (though far from all) people are becoming increasingly enlightened and spiritually evolved, there is a converse movement towards excessive and damaging censorship of the arts. When the censorship is applied not by humans but by Social Media bots, the prudish finger-wagging becomes as tediously artificial and indiscriminate as it is insidious.
Facebook, which has no compunction as to the posting of, for instance, violent physical attacks recorded on mobile phones, recently took down an image of Evelyne Axell's ICE CREAM, on the grounds that it 'displayed excessive skin'.
ICE CREAM - Evelyne Axell (1964)
One commentator observed at the time: “If this is offensive, I would really like to stop seeing pictures of women in thongs, bent over”.
Surely, the latter 'genre' of pose qualifies as one of the most generic and repetitive in modern-day misogynistic imagery, peddled by those who have no understanding of true eroticism. Axell's painting, by contrast, presents us with a bold and playful primary kaleidoscope which, though not without an erotic undercurrent, offers nothing to offend any but the most Victorian and repressed.
I have an axe to grind, as one of my own abstract (yes, abstract!) paintings was also deleted by Facebook for 'displaying excessive amounts of skin'!
Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2023