Disability aesthetics and the body beautiful: Signposts in the history of art Tobin Siebers 2008- Sculpture

September 15, 2017 by richard

Disability aesthetics and the body beautiful: Signposts in the history of art

L’esthétique du handicap et la beauté du corps : des indications dans l’histoire de l’art

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The discovery of fragmentary classical sculpture in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries reorients the making of art toward broken bodies, changing the nature of sculpture as an aesthetic form. But this category shift in the ideal of beauty also makes an opening for the emergence of disability aesthetics: the recognition that the disabled body becomes a valuable resource for the creation and appreciation of new art forms. The idea of disability aesthetics may be traced via disability signposts in which ancient works reminiscent of disability and modern works devoted to disability cross historically to create a powerful line of descent for the emergence of disability as an aesthetic value in itself.


La découverte de sculptures classiques, fragmentaires, au xve et xvie siècles réoriente l’art vers les corps abîmés et transforme en même temps la nature propre de la sculpture en tant que forme esthétique. Ce déplacement dans la conception de l’idéal de beauté permet également l’émergence de l’esthétique du handicap, c’est-à-dire la reconnaissance que le corps handicapé devient une source de grande valeur pour la création et l’appréciation des formes nouvelles de l’art. On peut repérer cette idée de l’esthétique du handicap, au long de l’histoire de l’art dans certaines manières d’indiquer que les oeuvres anciennes peuvent évoquer le corps handicapé et dans des oeuvres modernes consacrées au handicap. Ainsi se manifeste un courant puissant qui met au jour le handicap comme valeur esthétique en soi.


Disability aesthetics
Fragmentary sculpture
Venus de Milo

Mots clés

Esthétique du handicap
Sculpture fragmentaire
Vénus de Milo

On the cusp between the 15th and 16th centuries, classical Greek and Roman statuary began to rise out of the ground–with the help of shovel and pick. The Apollo Belvedere was unearthed around 1490. The Laocoön was discovered in 1506. Probably the most beautiful sculpture of all, the Torso Belvedere (not to be confused with the Apollo Belvedere), was above ground for a century before it was discovered and championed by Michelangelo. Unearthed sculpture has one obvious and defining feature. It is nearly always broken. The Apollo Belvedere was discovered intact, the Laocoön nearly so, but the Torso Belvedere was little more than a beautiful fragment and, according to the father of art history, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, most beautiful because it is so severely mutilated. The head, collar-bone, and shoulders of the Torso are split off and lost forever. Both limbs are severed at the knee. Almost 300 years later, the history of beauty was shaken once more, this time by the discovery of the female counterpart of the Torso. The Venus de Milo emerged from the ground in 1820, arriving late to the ball, but immediately declared to be the eternal standard of aesthetic and female beauty, despite the fact that she is missing both her arms.

The dazzling image of shattered bodies presented by fragmentary classical statuary penetrates almost immediately into the eye and mind of artists, who turn toward the artworks with feelings of awe rather than away from them in revulsion, who fight to preserve their fragmentary state rather than make the slightest effort to restore them to wholeness, who begin to mutilate their own works in order to imitate the perfection of the ancient broken bodies. Because the artists fall in love with broken bodies, so over time do we, the beholders of the art objects. No one bats an eye today at the fact that the Venus de Milo, although damaged, holds an honored place in the Louvre. She is not ruined by her flaws but beautified.

Leonard Barkan notices in Unearthing the Past this surprising evolution in the history of beauty, charting the impact of fragmentary statuary in the early modern period. He labels a “category shift” the development that transformed in this era sculptural fragments, separate from any possibility of becoming whole again, into objects of beauty capable of receiving attention and admiration (122). The “whole project of making art,” Barkan concludes, is reoriented “in response to broken bodies” (209).

This category shift constitutes, to my mind, one line of descent for the emergence of what I call “disability aesthetics,” the sea change affecting the history of art that increasingly provokes a preference for disabled bodies over non-disabled ones as we enter the modern age (Siebers, 2007). Another line of descent, almost concurrent, is the emergence of depictions of Christ’s suffering and defiled body in artworks representing the Passion cycle (Stiker, 2006, 2007). Disability aesthetics asserts the incontestable conclusion that modernist techniques and formal experiments render bodies whose shapes mimic deformation, whose coloration resonates with disease conditions, and whose subject matter takes on explicitly the representation of physically and mentally disabled people. The history of aesthetics evolves in the direction of disability, and we are all growing ever more conscious of this fact with every passing moment (Siebers, 2008).

If beauty is supposed to be flawless, and disability shows nothing but flaws, how do we account for the remarkable fact that modern art is preoccupied with human bodies that can only be described as disabled? How does beauty thought broken at first glance becomes beauty adored as perfect at second glance? And, finally, how might we expect the idea of beauty given to us by the history of art to change our everyday idea of beauty? Will we ever get to the stage where we see in our neighbor’s disabled body the same radiant beauty that we experience when we gaze upon the Torso Belvedere or the Venus de Milo?

Here are a few snapshots capturing important moments in the evolution of disability aesthetics. We might call them “disability signposts”–at first strange and then more frequent appearances of disability, not quite recognizable as such, certainly not designed as such, and then unrecognizable as anything else, until the subject of disability emerges explicitly as itself, chosen consciously by both non-disabled and disabled artists. A disability signpost is a work through which the influence of disability on the history of aesthetics may be read. Signposts are often crossing points where historical forces mingle. They are at once deeply chronological and anachronistic, simultaneously historical and non-historical. They make evident that disability as a concept bears weight backwards in time, giving meaning retroactively to images and ideas for the advancement of disability aesthetics. It is through these signposts, I want to suggest, that the aesthetic value of disability arises and comes to dominate the history of art.

The Torso Belvedere is badly damaged (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Belvedere_torso_by_jmax.jpg). Fig 1a



But Michelangelo supposedly declared that no attempts be made to restore it. Kneeling before it as before an altar he found that “this is the work of a man who knew more than nature” (Barkan, 200). Winckelmann saw in the Torso the perfect masculine form. He explained that the sculpture stirred the beholder to powerful feelings because it was incomplete. Headless, the sculpture nevertheless presents as a seat of noble and lofty acts of contemplation; armless, the work lifts the world around it; legless, it seems the height of mobility, ready to stand up and leave behind in the distance those viewing it (Winckelmann, 527–29). The seal of the Torso as perfection personified reaches its zenith in the story, perhaps apocryphal, that Michelangelo smashed with a hammer one of his finished works in order to complete it. In any event, Michelangelo’s “habit of abandoning, not finishing, or even mutilating his sculptures” may be ascribed, Barkan claims, to the category shift in aesthetic beauty brought about by the influence of works such as the Torso Belvedere (206). Michelangelo’s Slaves and Prisonersdo not need to be finished to be thought beautiful. Fig 1b


Although the Torso represents the height of masculine form, its beauty is neither represented as disabled nor reproduced as fragmentary, except in drawings, until much later in time. Michelangelo obviously incorporates his vision of the Torso into many of his works, including Victory and various figures in the Last Judgment, especially notable in the depictions of Christ and Saint Bartholomew. But none of these figures is missing head and limbs. At that moment in history, to make such an image would have been too radical a gesture, and we have to wait until Auguste Rodin to find a sculptor who revels in broken beauty, sometimes radically fragmentary, as in L’Homme qui marche (1900–1907), a heroic male body missing its head and arms but not its legs.

It is the Venus de Milo, however, that represents the most singular signpost in the evolution of disability aesthetics, for she becomes as time advances increasingly associated with the disabled body (Fig. 1). When the statue was found, discovered with it was the Venus’s left hand, but it was never attached to the body because it was less finished than other parts of the artwork. The Venus was from her discovery conceived as most complete and beautiful in her fragmentary state. The Venus is also the occasion for the first artistic statement in art history on the inevitability of seeing broken statuary as the representation of disabled people. René Magritte, the surrealist painter, took a dramatic turn toward realism or hyperrealism by depicting the Venus as a double amputee. He painted his version of the masterpiece, Les Menottes de cuivre (1931), in flesh tones and colorful drapery but splashed blood-red pigment on her famous arm-stumps, giving the impression of a recent and painful amputation (Fig. 2).

Venus de Milo, circa 100 B

Fig. 1Venus de Milo, circa 100 B.C.E. The Louvre, Paris. (C) RMNj/© Hervé Lewandowski.

René Magritte, Les Menottes de cuivre 1931, © Royal Museums of Fine Arts of…

Fig. 2. René Magritte, Les Menottes de cuivre 1931, © Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels. (C) 2008 C. Herscovici, London/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

A transitional figure in the conception of the Venus as a disabled woman is Aristide Maillol, the celebrated French sculptor. He did not name his versions of the Venus as disabled, but a number of his works are strongly suggestive of the conflict between disabled and non-disabled bodies in conceptions of female beauty. Most obvious is the sculpture, Harmonie(1940), but more significant may be an earlier and little discussed painting. Les Deux Baigneuses ou Dina de dos et profil (1938) shows Maillol trying to import into painting the concern with volume indicative of a sculptor. He paints two versions of Dina Vierny, seen from behind and in profile and facing each other, in order to gesture toward the image of a three-dimensional sculpture (Fig. 3). But the confrontation between the two figures produces as well a face-off between a disabled and non-disabled woman. The non-disabled woman, lying in the grass next to the pool, exists in the here and now. She is certainly beautiful. But the armless and legless woman floating on the surface of the pool, whether the reflection of the non-disabled woman or her twin rendered limbless by immersion in water, arises as the undeniable apparition of beauty. She is the dream of woman, whether haunting her non-disabled twin or Maillol himself. It is the armless and legless woman, then, whom Maillol appoints as the summit of aesthetic perfection, mimicking the captivating vision of female magnificence given to him by the Venus de Milo.

Aristide Maillol, Les deux baigneuses ou Dina de dos et profil 1938

Fig. 3. Aristide Maillol, Les deux baigneuses ou Dina de dos et profil 1938. Musée Maillol, Paris © 2008 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

It takes disabled artists to bring the evolution of disability aesthetics to a next stage in which disability is deliberately and explicitly represented as disability, not in the name of surrealism but in the name of a different aesthetic value–disability itself. Mary Duffy, the Irish performance artist, begins in the 1990’s to impersonate the Venus de Milo. Born without arms, Duffy presents herself to the audience fully nude or draped, while reciting statements challenging the vision of her as defective and claiming her place alongside the Venus as a disabled beauty (Fig. 4). She repeats the questions routinely posed to her by those unable to grasp her disability: “Were you born like that or did your mother take those dreadful tablets? Did you have an accident?” She also throws back into their face the speech of doctors: “You have words to describe me, congenital malformation.” But she disputes the power of medical vocabulary, claiming a body image whose aesthetic beauty has been celebrated for almost 200 years and that feels right to her: “I felt my body was right for me … Whole, complete, functional” (Mitchell and Snyder). Mary Duffy emerges as a modern day Venus not by shunning disability but by incarnating it.

Mary Duffy, video-still taken from Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell, Vital…

Fig. 4. Mary Duffy, video-still taken from Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell, Vital Signs: Crip Culture Talks Back 1995.

Whether Marc Quinn discovered the inspiration for his signally important and beautiful series of sculptures, The Complete Marbles, in his vision of sculptural fragments at the British Museum or took it from the work of one of his subjects, Alison Lapper, is not clear and may not be significant. The combination of their vision catapulted Quinn and Lapper into controversy, celebrity, and another vision of beauty when Quinn’s Alison Lapper Pregnantwas placed on the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square in 2005. Lapper, born without arms and with foreshortened legs, had already begun to represent herself as the next incarnation of the Venus de Milo before she met Quinn. In Untitled (2000), she photographed herself in series against a black backdrop, mimicking the standard photographs of the Venus de Milo in art history textbooks (Fig. 5). The year before, she had photographed herself in wings, representing herself in Angel (1999), as the Nike of Samothrace (see Millett). Like Duffy, Lapper engages in a deliberate recuperation of her own image as belonging among the most celebrated and valued representations of female beauty in the history of art.

Alison Lapper, Untitled 2000

Fig. 5. Alison Lapper, Untitled 2000.

These artworks produce a baffling but crucial bending of time in the historical interpretation of aesthetic beauty. The images that Duffy and Lapper make of themselves are seen as beautiful because they recall so powerfully the vision of beauty affirmed in the history of art by the Venus de Milo. But these images also change retroactively the perception of the Venus, for her beauty now incorporates necessarily the presence of disability. We cannot see Duffy and Lapper without seeing the Venus, and we cannot see the Venus without seeing Duffy and Lapper.

Marc Quinn’s Complete Marbles probes to the heart of this historical puzzle. The series, of which Alison Lapper Pregnant is a part (Fig. 6), devotes itself to the representation of disabled people born without arms or legs or who have lost them in accidents. The subjects are cast in beautiful, snow-white Carrara marble, and upon first glance, they appear to be updates of classical fragmentary statuary. Only a second glance reveals that Quinn is not mimicking breakage as did his forebears, Michelangelo, Rodin or Maillol, but representing disabled people. Consider a few examples of the subjects and their reactions to Quinn’s project. The subject of Catherine Long was born having no left arm. “People like myself–disabled people,” Long understands, “have felt that people relate to a broken statue differently to the way they might to a person with a disability” (Quinn 26). Tom Yendelldepicts a subject who was born without both arms. “Sculpting an unfinished human form as a finished form,” Yendell thinks, “is absolutely brilliant” (Quinn 43). The idea for the sculptures came to Quinn when visiting the British Museum and observing the reactions of people to the artworks “in a condition of mutilation.” He began to think that “if someone from real life came in who had a similar form, the reaction would be completely the opposite. In this instance, avoidance would replace aesthetic scrutiny” (Quinn 4). The thought experiment eventually brings Quinn to the conclusion that I have been tracing here, one synonymous with the emergence of disability as a modern aesthetic value of increasing interest: “if the Venus de Milo had arms it would most probably be a very boring statue” (Quinn 4). This conclusion compels Quinn to create a series of sculptures of people missing body parts. These sculptures are not boring but exhilarating precisely because they depict disabled people. They are beautiful for the same reason.

Marc Quinn, Alison Lapper Pregnant 2005

Fig. 6. Marc Quinn, Alison Lapper Pregnant 2005. Trafalgar Square. Photographed by Steven Mullaney.

Fig 6a  Tom Yendell Marc Quinnb 200 Complete Marbles

4 T

Figure 6a  Tom Yendell

Figure 6b Katherine Long

Katherine Long Marc Quinn

These last images by Duffy, Lapper, and Quinn are not images of disability at the periphery, such as the dwarfs in Vélasquez’s Las Meninas,





but images of disability that demand to stand at center stage. For this reason, it is only right and just that Alison Lapper Pregnantfound an honored place on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.

My point is not that all the artworks discussed here represent disability intentionally but that intentions are rendered obsolete by the force of a retroactive reading of disability that recoups any semblances of disability in past works and demands that they be viewed anew as avatars of disabled people. Disability presents increasingly as the key figure in the production and appreciation of art, one that becomes synonymous with aesthetic value itself (Siebers, 2009). Not only is this evolution crucial because it embeds the perception of disability in some of the most creative and valued practices in human history but because it throws open the door to the work of disabled artists, whose images of themselves and other disabled people must now take their place alongside other treasured visions of beauty.

How far the evolution of disability aesthetics will advance is difficult to predict. We are a long way from picking out disabled people in the street as the pinnacle of human beauty. Unfortunately, they are almost everywhere stigmatized and disdained as inferior and ugly. But in the world of art, things are changing. In this one corner of the human universe, the one with the greatest claim to create and recognize beauty, people with disabilities are radiant.


Barkan, 1999
Leonard BarkanUnearthing the past: Archaeology and aesthetics in the making of Renaissance culture
Yale University Press, New Haven (1999)
Mitchell and Snyder, 2000
Mitchell, David, and Sharon Snyder, directors, Vital Signs: Crip Culture Talks Back, Chicago, Brace Yourselves Productions, 1996, 2000.
Quinn, 2004
Marc QuinnThe complete marbles
Mary Boone Gallery, New York (2004)
Millett, 2008
Millett, Ann, “Sculpting body ideals: Alison Lapper Pregnant and the public display of disability,” Disability Studies Quarterly 28,3 (2008): http://www.dsq-sds.org (accessed October 17, 2008).
Siebers, 2007
Siebers, Tobin, “Disability aesthetics,” Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory 7,2 (2007): http://www.dsq-sds.org/2007_winter_toc.html (accessed October 17, 2008).
Siebers, 2008
Tobin SiebersZerbrochene Schönheit: Essays über Kunst, Ästhetik und Behinderung
Transcript Verlag. (Forthcoming), Bielefeld (2009)
Stiker, 2006
Stiker, Henri-Jacques. (2006). Les fables peintes du corps abîmé. Les images de l’infirmité du xvieau xxe siècle, Paris, Les éditions du Cerf.
Stiker, 2007
Stiker, Henri-Jacques. (2007). Approche anthropologique des images du handicap. Le schème du retournement ; Alter, European Journal of Disability Research, Revue européenne de recherche sur le handicap, vol.1-no  1.
Winckelmann, 2005
Johann Joachim WinckelmannHistoire de l’art dans l’antiquité
Librairie Générale Française, Paris (2005)

Tanya Raabe-Webber

September 10, 2017 by richard


Tanya Raabe other wise known as Tanya Raabe-Webber was Born in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, has been a practising Visual Artist, devising artworks exploring and challenging identity, a disabled self and the nude in contemporary Art since 1987. She gained a BA(HONS) in Graphic Design at Leeds Polytechnic an MA in Communication Design at Manchester Metropolitan University and a PGCE in Higher Education fron Huddersfield University.

Tanya has exhibited as a solo artist and in group shows nationally including screening Who’s Who at National Portrait Gallery, Exhibitions at Holton Lee, Dorset, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, The Bluecoat, The A Foundation, Liverpool, Oriel Wrexham, Laing Gallery Newcastle since 1990.

Tanya Raabe-Webber is an acclaimed disabled artist challenging the notion of identity within contemporary portraiture, often creating portraits of high profile disabled people during live sittings in public art galleries and venues.

The winner of Ability Media International Award, Visual Arts in 2010 and DaDa International Festival, Visual Arts Award 2008, Tanya has also appeared on the BBC programme The Culture Show, undertaking a live televised portrait of the actor, musician and performance artist Mat Fraser and was recently shortlisted for The National Diversity Awards Lifetime Achievement.

Her recent collection Revealing Culture : HeadOn – Portraits of the Untold was delivered through a partnership between Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Wolverhampton Art Gallery, where live portrait sittings took place during a series of residencies in these venues, sitters including Tom Shakespeare Sociologist – Bioethicist, Baroness Jane Campbell of Surbiton, D.B.E, Active Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords and Sir Bert Massie CBE Former Chair of the Disability Rights Commission.

She has worked on many commissions including Architects Inside Out: Tate Modern and Art Matters: Tate Britain and most recently co-presented her collaborative research with Project Ability at the Contemporary Outsider Art: the global context conference in Melbourne Australia.

Sandy Nairne Director of National Portrait Gallery opens Whos Who at Shape, Tanya and Tony Heaton R:Evolve an instalation from the Revealing Culture collection, Bluecoat, Liverpool

Photo on the left: Sandy Nairne Director of NPG, Artist Tanya Raabe-Webber Tony Heaton, CEO Shape opening of Portraits by Tanya Raabe-Webber

Commissions include:

International Film Festival Canada – Picture This is sceening short Film ‘Portrait of Deborah Williams’ Feb 2012 – Calgary, Alberta. Canada


JGarry-RobsontomshakespeareRobert Softley and Nathan Gale

Portraits Dame Jane Campbell, Debs Williams Actor /Producer, Nabil Shaban Actor, Gary Robson DA Da Fest, Prof Tom Shakespeare, Robert Softley and Nathan Gal

Awards recieved:

  • Winner of Ability Media International Award, Visual Arts 2010, http://amiawards.org/2010-visual-arts
  • DaDa International Festival 2008 Visual Arts.
  • Arts Council England Grants for the Arts awards include Who’s Who 2008, Revealing Culture:HeadOn 2009-11.

Some of her other work includes Advisor on Cultural Olympiad commission ‘Artists Taking the Lead’, http://www.artiststakingthelead.org.uk/west-midlands/info and participatory work in Galleries, Schools, colleges and theatres nationally. Her work has been Published internationally in Representation of Sex, by H. Hagiwara, Osaka Women’s University, Japan.

Tanya is presently working on series of portraits commissioned by Meadow Arts and she is an associate Director of Fittings MultiMedia Arts http://www.fittings.org.uk/ . Tanya also recently created live portraits of high profile cultural figures who have helped to define a thriving Disability cultural identity with in a contemporary society. These portraits were created during a series of portrait sittings open to the public in Tate Modern and Tate Liverpool and Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Portraits of the Untold A collaboration with Tate Gallery http://www.tanyaraabe.co.uk/TR%20RC_HO%20cat2011.pdf

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/disability-36904309/painting-a-picture-of-diversity  Film of Portrait of Evelyn Glennie Deaf Musician

Tanya Raabe-Webber is an acclaimed disabled artist challenging the notion of identity within contemporary portraiture, often creating portraits of high profile disabled people during live sittings in high profile public art galleries and venues.

She has been a professional artist since 1987. Tanya’s extensive collection of contemporary portraits and images of a disabling world often make use of a variety of mediums including mixed media collage, digital media, and traditional paint which she blends seamlessly to create her images.

There are significant aesthetic differences between Raabe-Webber’s earlier pieces and her current style of portraiture.

Quotes from Tanya

‘My work is driven by the portrayal of the diversity of humanity’

Tanya Raabe

‘I am a visual, issue-based artist/illustrator practising in the art of mixed-media painting and drawing. My artwork focuses on issues that are born out of my life experiences as a woman and a disabled person. I am an artist and a disabled artist creating images of myself in my environment that’s dominated by a society obsessed with physical beauty and perfection. I analyse and challenge some of the stereotypes and myths surrounding disabilities developed through years of misrepresentation concerning the body beautiful. Oppression and marginalisation has fuelled my drive to succeed as an artist and as a disability arts practitioner. My pictures are abstract/figurative, visually stimulating and emotionally challenging. Because I have a unique insight into disabled peoples’ lives and a high standard of professional art skills, I have combined this knowledge to develop and coordinate professional disability arts projects, residencies and workshops in art galleries, resource centres and arts centres around the country. Disability art is part of my history and I am part of its history. This is an art movement that has not been recognised by art historians. Disabled artists have yet to be valued and recognised as professional and take their place in art history. But I continue to develop new artwork and contribute to the disability arts movement and I am successful in my field. My work has been published and exhibited nationally and internationally.’

Tanya Raabe 2011 Sophie Morgan Portrait

Disability Arts Movement highlights

Her popular ‘Who’s Who’ and ‘Revealing Culture: Head On’ series’ challenge the notion of portraiture using disability aesthetics and visual language.

These painted portraits depict disabled artists and pioneers of the Disability Arts and Cultural sector and were exhibited nationally, including an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 2009: www.tanyaraabe.co.uk/whoswho.html.

Further Reading

Her most recent project is ‘Portraits Untold’, is an ambitious live portrait project exploring and celebrating our common humanity; involving a series of live streamed portrait events in high profile venues including the National Portrait Gallery and the National Trust: www.portraitsuntold.co.uk

Who’S WhO – Defining Faces of an Arts Movement

Who’S WhO is a collection of portraits created by Tanya Raabe-webber Visual Artist. The portraits challenge the notion of portraiture using disability aesthetics and visual language. The portraits are of established and new emerging disabled artists who have and continue to pioneer disability arts and culture in a society that uses perfection, beauty, and normality as a ‘must have’.

Each artist has been chosen because of their influence in shaping disability art as an arts movement in its own right and have in some way shaped the art work of leading disabled artist Tanya Raabe-Webber. Another aspect of the project was Multimedia Portraits which combines the production and working processes of the paintings and drawings in transition with sound, vision and text, hearing each artist talking about their history of art and their working processes. Studio Talks contextualises the subjects juxtaposing their position in a challenging society exploring disability art and culture.

Dr Paul Darke

Artist/Writer/Cultural Critic. Paul is recognised for his frankness about the state of disability arts and for his historical exploration of disability representation in film. Paul has been developing his own artwork using the internet since 2000. www.outside-centre.com “Its guerrilla art from a disability art perspective.”

Portrait of Paul Darke by Tanya Raabe

Mat Fraser

Actor/Performance Artist/Singer/Songwriter/Playwright. Mat is recognised as an actor in the mainstream and for being an ambassador of the representation of disabled people in the media while causing controversial disability arts debate within disability culture, and for being born disabled but not ‘coming out’ as a disabled person until he was in his 30’s. www.matfraser.co.uk

Portrait of Mat Fraser by Tanya Raabe

Colin Hambrook

Painter/Disability Arts Writer . Colin is recognised for his paintings about his experience as a disabled man and mental health system survivor. His paintings are part of the NDACA National Disability Arts Collection and Archive, at Holton Lee. Colin is presently the artistic director of www.disabilityarts.org a contemporary cyber space keeping alive and developing disability arts into the 21st century.

Portrait of Colin Hambrook by Tanya Raabe

Tony Heaton

Sculptor/pioneer of NDACA, National Disability Arts Collection and Archive at Holton Lee.Tony is recognised for being a Sculptor in his own right and for his work at Holton Lee, setting up Faith House art gallery, accessible studio spaces, NDACA and campaigning for disability art to be recognized as an arts movement in its own right.

Portrait of Tony Heaton by Tanya Raabe

Nikki Hewish

Deaf Artist – Installation Artist. Nikki is an emerging deaf artist in the early stages of her career exploring her ideas about the world around her using sculptural material to create installations.

Portrait of Nikki Hewish by Tanya Raabe

Dave King

3D Fantasy Digital Artist. David has a background in science and delves into the realm of 3D computer graphics utilizing the useful metamorphosis of mathematics to produce imagery. “My work intends to deliver the potency of using digital techniques to produce art by using structure and shape to employ techniques of object and anatomical construction”

Portrait of Dave King by Tanya Raabe

Julie McNamara

Singer/Songwriter/Playwright/Raconteur/Activist. Julie is recognized for her amazing stories about her experiences as a disabled woman/mental health system survivor that she has interpreted into performance/plays/songs that have given others the will to live, and for being ‘cured’ of her disabilities by the ‘medical profession’. www.juliemc.com

Portrait of Julie McNamara by Tanya Raabe

Zoe Partington – Sollinger

Installation Artist/Disability Arts Consultant Zoe is recognized for her work in equality training and is emerging as a disabled artist in her own right creating conceptual installations based on her experiences as a disabled woman in a disabling world.

Portrait of Zoe Partington – Sollinger by Tanya Raabe

Allan Sutherland

Writer/Playwright/Performance poet. Allan is recognized for his “love of words”, his radio play ‘Inmates’, and as the author of ‘Disabled We Stand’ a book exploring disability culture and identity that has been a ‘light bulb’ for people to identify them selves as disabled people and for The Edward Lear Foundation an established Disability Arts think-tank on the internet. www.learfoundation.org.uk

Portrait of Allan Sutherland by Tanya Raabe

Who’S WhO exhibition history & portraits

Who’S WhO Exhibition Launch 15th March 2008 – 19th May 2008

Who’S WhO was funded by Arts Council England

Arts Council England logo

Shape London : 12th November 09 – January 31st 2010.

27a Access Artspace: 20th July – 10th September 2009.

Solihull Arts Complex: 25th May – 5th July 2009.

Oriel Wrecsam / Wrexham Arts Centre: 7th March -18th April 2009.

National Portrait Gallery; Meet The Artists: 23rd March 2009.

Qube Gallery Oswestry: 2nd February – 28th February 2009.

The Place Theatre Telford: 18th October – 20th November 2008.

DaDaFest International 08 at the A Foundation Liverpool: 18th August – 7th September 2008.

Beaumont College Arts Festival: 7th – 11th July 2008


All artworks are © Tanya Raabe 2011. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction without permission is prohibited.

Vincent Van Gogh, 1853–1890

by richard

“One feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep dark well, utterly helpless.”

Around the time that Tolstoy was tussling with depression and his spiritual crisis, on the other side of Europe another creative icon was struggling with the darkness of his own psychoemotional landscape. As he was painting some of the most celebrated and influential art of all time, Vincent Van Gogh (March 30, 1853–July 29, 1890) was combating his anguishing mental illness — frequent episodes of depression, paralyzing anxiety and, according to some accounts, the symptoms of bipolar disorder — which would eventually claim his life in 1890, shortly after his 37th birthday.

Van Gogh’s most direct and honest account of his psychoemotional turmoil comes from the letters to his brother Theo, originally published in 1937 as the hefty tome Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent van Gogh and later excerpted in My Life & Love Are One (public library) — the same wonderful 1976 gem that gave us his thoughts on love, tracing “the magic and melancholy of Vincent van Gogh.” The title comes from a specific letter written during one of the painter’s periods of respite from mental illness, in which he professes to his brother: “Life has become very dear to me, and I am very glad that I love. My life and my love are one.”

Dutch newspaper report from December 30, 1888: ‘Last Sunday night at half past eleven a painter named Vincent Van Gogh, appeared at the maison de tolérance No 1, asked for a girl called Rachel, and handed her … his ear with these words: ‘Keep this object like a treasure.’ Then he disappeared. The police, informed of these events, which could only be the work of an unfortunate madman, looked the next morning for this individual, whom they found in bed with scarcely a sign of life. The poor man was taken to hospital without delay.’

In one of the early letters, Van Gogh expressed an aspiration that remained significant for him throughout his life:

Let us keep courage and try to be patient and gentle. And not mind being eccentric, and make distinction between good and evil.

It’s also a thought bittersweet in hindsight, given the self-compassion it implies for being eccentric. Years later, that very eccentricity would be interpreted as madness by his neighbors, who would evict him from his house and lead to his checking into an insane asylum.

Meanwhile, his bouts of depression, when they descended upon him, were unforgiving. In another letter to Theo, he writes:

I am so angry with myself because I cannot do what I should like to do, and at such a moment one feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep dark well, utterly helpless.

‘Self-Portrait with Straw Hat’ by Vincent van Gogh, winter 1887/1888

But underlying his deep despair is a subtle sense of optimism that carries him and enables him to continue painting despite the mental anguish:

This is my ambition, which is founded less on anger than on love, founded more on serenity than on passion. It is true that I am often in the greatest misery, but still there is within me a calm, pure harmony and music. In the poorest huts, in the dirtiest corner, I see drawings and pictures. And with irresistible force my mind is drawn towards these things. Believe me that sometimes I laugh heartily because people suspect me of all kinds of malignity and absurdity, of which not a hair of my head is guilty — I, who am really no one but a friend of nature, of study, of work, and especially of people.

Like artist Maira Kalman, who asserted nearly a century and a half later that work and love are the two keys to a full life, Van Gogh begins to see his work as his unflinching sense of purpose, his salvation:

How much sadness there is in life! Nevertheless one must not become melancholy. One must seek distraction in other things, and the right thing is to work.

Having at one point subsisted primarily on bread, coffee and absinthe, he embraces work as life’s highest reward, worth any sacrifice:

I believe more and more that to work for the sake of the work is the principle of all great artists: not to be discouraged even though almost starving, and though one feels one has to say farewell to all material comfort.

‘Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear,’ 1889, painted shortly after he sliced off his own ear

But in reflecting — as Kurt Vonnegut memorably did — on what makes life fulfilling, it seems that rather than conveying a conviction to his brother, Van Gogh is trying to convince himself:

I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?

And yet, Van Gogh ultimately sees his psychological struggles not as something to negate but as his artistic truth, as a vital part of his honest experience, which is the necessary foundation of great art:

Do you know that it is very, very necessary for honest people to remain in art? Hardly anyone knows that the secret of beautiful work lies to a great extent in truth and sincere sentiment


During his time in Auvers in the South of France from mid May to his death by suicide on July 29th Vincent produced many oil paintings over 77 that are recorded. This prodigious output has been linked to the manic stage of his Bi-Polar . Here are some of them.

Sheaves of Wheat July1890Thatched Cottage in JorgusJune 1890Wheat Fields at Auvers Under Clouded Sky July 1890Young Girl Standing Against a Background of Wheat June 1890Wheat fields with Crows July 1890Young Man with Cornflower June1890Portrait of Adeline Ravoux 1 June 1890Fields with Wheat Stacks July 1890

Van Gogh’s Mental and Physical Health

Hundreds of physicians and psychiatrists have tried to define Van Gogh’s medical conditions over the years. The following are some of the more probable mental and physical diagnoses.

Van Gogh suffered from seizures which doctors, including Dr. Felix Rey and Dr. Peyron, believed to be caused by temporal lobe epilepsy. Van Gogh was born with a brain lesion that many doctors believe was aggravated by his prolonged use of absinthe causing his epileptic condition. Dr. Gachet, another of Van Gogh’s physicians, was thought to have treated his epilepsy with digitalis. This prescription drug can cause one to see in yellow or see yellow spots. This may have been one of the reasons why Van Gogh loved this color.Temporal Lobe Epilepsy


Bipolar disorder

Due to Van Gogh’s extreme enthusiasm and dedication to first religion and then art coupled with the feverish pace of his art production many believe that mania was a prominent condition in Van Gogh’s life. However, these episodes were always followed by exhaustion and depression and ultimately suicide. Therefore, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or manic depression makes sense with the accounts of these episodes in Van Gogh’s life.


Thujone poisoning

In order to counter act his attacks of epilepsy, anxiety, and depression, Van Gogh drank absinthe, a toxic alcoholic drink popular with many artists at the time. Thujone is the toxin in absinthe. Unfortunately, the Thujone worked against Van Gogh aggravating his epilepsy and manic depression. High doses of thujone can also cause one to see objects in yellow. Various physicians have differing opinions on whether or not this is what caused Van Gogh’s affinity with yellow.


Lead poisoning

Because Van Gogh used lead based paints there are some who believe he suffered from lead poisoning from nibbling at paint chips. It was also noted by Dr. Peyron that during his attacks Van Gogh tried to poison himself by swallowing paint or drinking kerosene. One of the symptoms of lead poisoning is swelling of the retinas which can cause one to see light in circles like halos around objects. This can be seen in paintings like The Starry Night.



Hypergraphia is a condition causing one to need to write continuously; this disorder is commonly linked to mania and epilepsy. Some believe that the massive collection of over 800 letters Van Gogh wrote during his lifetime could be attributed to this condition.



Because Van Gogh strived for realism in his paintings he was often painting outdoors especially during his times in the South of France. Some of his episodes of hostility and the nausea and “bad stomach” he refers to in his letters may have been the effects of sunstroke.



A new exhibition explores the Dutch master’s psychological torment. 26 AUGUST 2016

Until now, the way of testing whether or not someone had good biographical knowledge of Vincent Van Gogh was to ask them about the famous ear-cutting incident. The answer ‘he cut off his ear’ informed you the speaker had only a hazy comprehension, whereas the knowledgeable person replied ‘in actuality, Van Gogh cut off only part of his ear’. Now new information suggests that Van Gogh did indeed cut off his whole left ear. On the Verge of Insanity: Van Gogh and His Illness, a new exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (closes 25 September), accompanied by an excellent catalogue, attempts to get as close as possible to the truth about Van Gogh’s physical and mental illnesses.

The confusion about the ear incident sprang up during Van Gogh’s lifetime. On the 23 December 1888, Van Gogh was living with Paul Gauguin at the Yellow House in Arles. Gauguin announced his intention to leave Arles after persistent rows with Van Gogh. Deeply anxious and depressed, Van Gogh slashed his ear with a razor. He presented the ear wrapped in newspaper to a prostitute at a local brothel. The next day police discovered Van Gogh unconscious in his house surrounded by blood. Vincent’s brother Theo (who supported him morally and financially) raced from Paris on Christmas Day to comfort Van Gogh in Arles hospital.

Jo Van Gogh-Bonger (Van Gogh’s sister-in-law and someone who met him several times after the incident) claimed it was part of the ear, whereas doctors, policemen and reporters in Arles claimed it was the entire ear. Van Gogh became ashamed of his mutilation and attempted to conceal it, leading to the contradictory statements of associates. Some witnesses may not have seen the injury clearly and others repeated what they had been told. What seems to be the clinching proof that he did cut off almost his whole ear (except a stump of the lobe) is a diagram made by Dr Felix Rey, the attending physician in Arles.

While biographically interesting, the ear incident in no way helps us understand Van Gogh’s art. What does have more bearing on his artistic production and life is the multiple illnesses he suffered from. Irritable and melancholy by nature and prone to fixations on individuals and ideas, Van Gogh’s devotion to work led him to neglect his health. Though he spent on art materials, he ate poorly. The loss of most of his teeth in his early thirties led to gastric trouble. He suffered from insomnia. And he contracted gonorrhoea, and possibly syphilis.

Van Gogh’s poor diet, tiredness and overconsumption of alcohol and caffeine – plus his tendency to overwork – contributed to attacks of mania, which physicians at the time diagnosed as epileptic fugues. In these states, Van Gogh ate paint and attempted to drink turpentine and paraffin. He had seemingly no control over his actions and experienced visual and auditory hallucinations. After these attacks he would be overcome by lassitude, depression, his speech would be jumbled and he would fail to recognise familiar people. Even when not in these post-manic phases, he suffered from extreme nervous tension and paranoia.

There have been numerous suggested diagnoses of Van Gogh’s mental illness, but none is without flaw. Psychosis, bi-polar disorder, borderline-personality disorder, neurosyphilis, Meniere’s disease, poisoning and other suggestions have been put forward. Van Gogh never painted during his nervous attacks, but his illness and his (voluntary) confinement did influence his choice of artistic subjects and even his materials. During phases when he was considered at risk of relapse, he had no access to oil paint and was only allowed ink and watercolour. His attachment to religious subjects and the themes of family life and the life of prisoners were direct comments on his situation.

In Arles hospital, Van Gogh was treated for his wound, but it was clear he was mentally ill. The local postman, a Protestant pastor and a cleaning lady all made strenuous efforts to support Van Gogh, regularly sending Theo updates after he returned to Paris, leaving his brother in Arles. Van Gogh’s condition fluctuated. Local residents in Arles started a petition and gave a verbal deposition to the effect that Van Gogh’s lewd and unpredictable behaviour frightened people, that he had inappropriately touched women and followed them into their residences. A document was drafted which would have committed him to an asylum. Van Gogh – fully aware that he was ill and a danger to himself – voluntarily committed himself to an asylum in nearby St Remy.

In May 1889, Van Gogh moved from St Remy to Auvers-sur-Oise, a small village near Paris, where he could be close to Theo, Theo’s wife Jo and their baby. Dr Gachet, a friend of painters, would take care of Van Gogh. Though isolated and nervous, he was productive over the summer and seemed to have achieved equilibrium. On 27 July 1890, Van Gogh apparently shot himself while out painting in a field. He staggered back to his boarding house. Doctors determined that the bullet wound to the abdomen was fatal and inoperable. He died in his brother’s arms on 29 July.

Included in the catalogue is a photograph of a pistol recovered in 1960 from a field near the site of Van Gogh’s shooting. It is a reasonable assumption this artefact is the fatal weapon. The catalogue’s authors do not discuss the idea put forward by biographers Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh that Van Gogh was shot by local teenage boy Rene Secretan, a theory that prominent Van Gogh experts consider improbable.

The curators and writers have commendably resisted translating Van Gogh’s illness into explanations for his art, but they do show how his conditions influenced his life and outlook. It is unlikely that new material will come to light that will permit clear diagnosis of his mental condition, but this exhibition and catalogue do bring us closer to understanding the distress of one of art’s greatest geniuses.

Alexander Adams is a writer and art critic. He writes for Apollo, the Art Newspaperand the Jackdaw. His book On Dead Mountain is published by Golconda Fine Art Books. (Order this book from the Pig Ear Press bookshop.)http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/the-madness-of-vincent-van-gogh/18680#.WbUlwrKGOUk

On the Verge of Insanity: Van Gogh and His Illness is at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, until 25 September. The exhibition catalogue, published by Mercatorfonds, is available to buy here.

Paula Rego, 1935–

by richard

Paula Rego and her son discuss unravelling the artist’s tortured life on film


Paula Rego and the flying mermaids in her north London studio CREDIT: ©NICK WILLING/©NICK WILLING 

Awoman, in a black dress with bare feet, presses herself into a sofa. Her posture is cowered, and her arms are crossed across her chest protectively. One leg is drawn up against her body, as if in pain, and there’s a deep frown line down the centre of her forehead. In her hands, she clutches a brown piece of rubber that loops between her legs. Her face is blank, and she hugs the rubber tightly, as if trying to wrap herself in it. This picture is from artist Dame Paula Rego’s Depression Series of works on paper, which is on show for the first time at London’s Marlborough Fine Art gallery to coincide with the screening of a BBC documentary made by her son Nick Willing about her life.

images (4)

Rego was born in 1935 in Portugal, and has through her life switched  between there and London, where she studied at The Slade School of Fine Art and currently resides. She ostensibly works in paint and pastel, and often draws on folk-themes from her native country, and reflects on feminism. A remarkable talent, now 82 years old, she is considered to rank among the 20th century’s best painters. She has also ploughed a furrow for female artists, talking passionately about feminist issues such as abortion, and paving the way them to be taken seriously. Whilst at The Slade, Rego met artist Victor Willing, who she later married, and with whom she had three children – Nick, Cassie and Victoria.



The film Nick Willing made about his mother’s life, Secrets and Stories, will be shown on BBC Two this weekend. “There are two reasons that my mother agreed to let me make the film now,” he explains. When Portugal cut its arts funding during the recent global recession, one of Rego’s museums was affected by the cuts and Nick hired a lawyer to try to coordinate deals and contracts; the work brought the mother and son closer together. “Our relationship evolved, and she started telling me these stories that I’d never heard before,” says Nick. “The stories just cropped up in coversation. So I said: why don’t you make a film and you can tell everybody about your life?” She agreed, and Secrets and Stories was born. The archive of footage he draws upon, and splices together is varied, fascinating and detailed as he has been filming his mother ever since 1975, when, aged 13, his grandfather gave him a video camera.

images (12)
Paula Rego and her husband Victor Willing at their house in Ericeria, Portugal CREDIT: CREDIT: MANUELA MORAIS/CREDIT: MANUELA MORAIS

Making the film was also a cathartic exercise for Willing. When he was a child, him and his siblings Cassie and Victoria were locked out of his parents’ studio in the grounds of their house in Ericeria, a small, traditional port town in Portugal. He recalls how the only way he was able to spend time with his mother was when they’d draw together, and the only time she opened the studio door to him was when he poked a drawing underneath. When she saw it, she allowed him in, and asked him to explain the drawing. “The film was cathartic on all sorts of levels. I got to know my mum not only through her work, but also through my work. That’s how we’d always connected, through the work, drawing and so on. Now I was using my work – I’d been a filmmaker all my life. So I was in a way doing what she’s always done, which was use work to unravel something that I don’t fully understand about myself and about my family.”


In the film, this unraveling involves some piercingly honest anecdotes from mother to son. For example, she describes how she lost her virginity to artist Willing’s father at a party when she was a student at The Slade. “He told me to come into a room and take down my knickers, and I just did it. I was a virgin, so you can imagine the mess that caused. He could have at least hailed me a taxi, not at all. He stayed in there tidying up.” As Willing explains it, was closer to a rape than a romantic moment. “That was the first time she’d told it like that,” he says. “And it really wasn’t pleasant at all. She ended up falling completely head-over-heels for my father; she had very, very, strong feelings for him. And it’s the feelings that have to be corralled and come to terms with in the pictures – that’s what the pictures are for – they’re for somehow trying to come to terms with those difficult feelings.”

The same is true of the Depression Series, which features twelve pastels in muted black, ochre and mustard yellow that Paula Rego made in 2007 when in the depths of a  depression that nearly killed her. At the time, she locked them in a drawer, partly because she was ashamed of being so depressed, and partly because she was afraid that if she opened the drawer, she might become depressed again. “The pictures show the way I felt,” says Rego about the series. “Stuck, as if tied up, unable to move. Sometimes I hold onto the wrong thing – like that big rubber thing in the picture – thinking that it might help, but on the contrary, it doesn’t help at all. You don’t know good from bad.”

Paula-Rego-Depression-Series images (2)

Another revealing moment in the film is when Nick asks his mother to tell him about the thing in her life that she’s most proud of. She answers that it was winning the first prize in a painting competition at The Slade while a student there. “I was taken seriously for the first time. Even though I was a foreigner and a woman, they thought my picture was the best.” This was a revelation for Paula, who, for the first time, understood the true power of art. Winning the prize gave her the strength and confidence to go ahead and do it,  to do the things she’d always wanted to do.

images (6)

Paula and Nick 
Paula Rego and her son Nick Willing in the artist’s north London studio CREDIT: CREDIT: NICK WILLING /CREDIT: NICK WILLING

Throughout her life art has been her weapon, her strength and her voice, her power. She has used drawing as a way of expressing the truth about a situation, her real thoughts and feelings, whereas in real life she has capitulated and avoided conflict, she says. When fighting to overturn laws banning abortion in Portugal in the late Nineties, she made a series of etchings, drawings and paintings showing the reality of the suffering women experience when having them illegally.  For Paula, her work and her life are contingent – one cannot exist without the other. “If I think I’ve done something good I feel better,” explains Paula about her work in relation to depression. “By moving, doing something, keeping going helps. It’s essential to life.”

Paula Rego: Depression Series, Marlborough Fine Art, 14 March – 1 April 2017, marlboroughlondon.com

Paula Rego: Secrets & Stories, directed by Nick Willing, airs on BBC Two on the 25th March at 9pm, bbc.co.uk/bbctwo http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04x5yjf

Interview 2009 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/6469383/Paula-Rego-interview.html

Interview in the Guardian 2009  ‘You punish with Drawing’ https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/aug/22/paula-rego-art-interview

Pablo Picasso, Blue Period Art and Depression

by richard

Pablo Picasso 1901-1904 Blue Period Art and Depression

Self Portrait Blue Period Self -Portrait

The Blue Period (SpanishPeríodo Azul) is a term used to define the works produced by Spanish painter Pablo Picasso between 1901 and 1904 when he painted essentially monochromatic paintings in shades of blue and blue-green, only occasionally warmed by other colors. These somber works, inspired by Spain and painted in Barcelona and Paris, are now some of his most popular works, although he had difficulty selling them at the time.

This period’s starting point is uncertain; it may have begun in Spain in the spring of 1901 or in Paris in the second half of the year. In choosing austere color and sometimes doleful subject matter—prostitutesbeggars and drunks are frequent subjects—Picasso was influenced by a journey through Spain and by the suicide of his friend; Carlos Casagemas took his life at the L’Hippodrome Café in ParisFrance by shooting himself in the right temple on February 17, 1901. Although Picasso himself later recalled, “I started painting in blue when I learned of Casagemas’s death”, art historian Hélène Seckel has written: “While we might be right to retain this psychologizing justification, we ought not lose sight of the chronology of events: Picasso was not there when Casagemas committed suicide in Paris … When Picasso returned to Paris in May, he stayed in the studio of his departed friend, where he worked for several more weeks to prepare his exhibition for Vollard”. The works Picasso painted for his show at Ambroise Vollard‘s gallery that summer were generally characterized by a “dazzling palette and exuberant subject matter”.Picasso’s psychological state worsened as 1901 continued.

The death of casagemas Picasso 1901The death of casagemas Picasso 1900

In the latter part of 1901, Picasso sank into a severe depression and blue tones began to dominate his paintings. Picasso’s painting La mort de Casagemas, completed early in the year following his friend’s suicide, was done in hot, bright hues. The painting considered the first of his Blue Period, Casagemas in His Coffin, was completed later in 1901 when Picasso was sinking into a major depression. Picasso, normally an outgoing socializer, withdrew from his friends. Picasso’s bout of depression was to last several years. Picasso’s career had been promising before 1901 and early in that year he was making “a splash” in Paris. However, as he moved towards subject matter such as society’s poor and outcast, and accented this with a cool, anguished mood with blue hues, the critics and the public turned away from his works. Members of the public were uninterested in displaying the Blue Period works in their homes. Picasso continued his output, but his financial situation suffered:


His pictures, not merely melancholy but profoundly depressed and cheerless, inspired no affection in the public or in buyers. It was not poverty that led him to paint the impoverished outsiders of society, but rather the fact that he painted them that made him poor himself.

From 1901 to 1903, he painted several posthumous portraits of Casagemas, culminating in the gloomy allegorical painting La Vie, painted in 1903 and now in the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Picasso_la_viepicasso (1)Portrait d'Angel Fernandez de Soto,The Frugal Repast Picasso 1904

The same mood pervades the well-known etching The Frugal Repast (1904) which depicts a blind man and a sighted woman, both emaciated, seated at a nearly bare table. Blindness is a recurrent theme in Picasso’s works of this period, also represented in The Blindman’s Meal (1903, the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and in the portrait of Celestina (1903).

_the_blind_mans_meal_1903celestina 1903 ( Blind)Old Beggar with Boy1

Infrared imagery of Picasso’s 1901 painting The Blue Room reveals another painting beneath the surface.[9]

Other frequent subjects include female nudes and mothers with children. Solitary figures dominate his Blue Period works. Themes of loneliness, poverty and despair pervade the works as well. Possibly his most well known work from this period is The Old Guitarist.

Old_guitarist_chicagopicasso_1902_las_dos_hermanasPortrait of Soler 1903

Other major works include Portrait of Soler (1903) and Las dos hermanas (1904).

Picasso’s Blue Period was followed by his Rose Period. Picasso’s bout with depression gradually ended, and as his psychological state improved, he moved towards more joyful, vibrant works, and emphasized the use of pinks (“rose” in French) and other warm hues to express the shift in mood and subject matter.Picasso’s depression didn’t end with the beginning of his rose period, which succeeded the blue period and in which the color pink dominates in many of his paintings. In fact, it lasted until the end of his cubist period (which followed the rose period) and only in the period thereafter, which was his neo-classicist period, did Picasso’s work begin the show the playfulness that would remain a prominent feature of his work for the rest of his life. Picasso’s contemporaries didn’t even distinguish between a blue and a rose period but regarded the two as one single period.

Acrobat and Young Harlequin, 1905 & Boy with Pipe 1905download

The painting Portrait of Suzanne Bloch (1904), one of the final works from this period, was stolen from the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) on December 20, 2007, but retrieved on January 8, 2008.








Paul Cézanne, 1839–1906

by richard

CÉZANNE, PAUL (1839-1906)

Who was Paul Cézanne?


Paul Cézanne was born on January 19, 1839, in Aix-en-Provence, France and died in his home in Aix at age 67 on October 23, 1906. Although born out of wedlock, Cézanne was acknowledged by his father, a hatter turned wealthy banker. Cézanne’s parents were married in Aix a few years after his birth.

In 1857, at the age of 18, Cézanne enrolled at the École Gratuite de Dessin (free drawing school) in Aix. At the encouragement of his father, Cézanne attended law school. He dropped out in 1861 to travel to Paris pursue his art. While in Paris he attended a private art school, the Académie Suisse (Claude Monet attended the same school). Despite the submission of a variety of his work, Cézanne’s paintings were never accepted by the traditional and prestigious French Salon.

Cézanne worked in Aix and Paris for many years. Cézanne refused to enlist in the French army during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) and was considered a draft-dodger. He fathered a son born in 1872, with Hortense Fiquet, whom he married several years later.

1886-90 Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from Gardanne oil on canvas 62.5 x 91 cm National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.cezanne-1880

Cézanne’s work found favor with the Impressionists, and he displayed three paintings in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. Although generally a solitary man, Cézanne was close friends with some of the other Impressionists. Camille Pisarro was Cézanne’s most consistent supporter from 1861 onward; Cézanne was named one of the executors of Pissaro’s will. Cézanne and Claude Monet were also good friends, and greatly admired one another’s work. His fellow artists frequently commented on the clarity and elegance of his varied subjects. Cézanne had an uncanny ability to juxtapose various forms, colours, and textures into a unified composition. Monet, as well as Edgar Degas and Paul Gaugin all included Cézanne’s paintings in their collections.

los_jugadores_de_cartas 18901897

Despite his friendships, Cézanne was wary of the world and spent most of his life in relative isolation. He wrote, “I should remain alone, people’s cunning is such that I can’t get away from it, it’s theft, conceit, infatuation, rape, seizure of your production, and yet nature is very beautiful.” – from a letter to his son, also named Paul, September 28, 1906. His childhood friend, the famous French writer Emile Zola, with whom he carried on an active correspondence, was a significant influence in his life. Cézanne was characterized as private and frequently misunderstood. Painting was an obsession. Just before his death he complained to his son, “ I live a bit as if in a void. Painting is what matters most to me.” His last visit to Paris was in 1904 and he died two years later.

1976.68_retrato-campesino 1905legrandibagnanti,i,1906

Cézanne aimed to transform the Impressionist style of painting into something more concrete. He was an important bridge from the Impressionists to more modern forms of art. Like the other Impressionists, Cézanne believed it imperative not to copy an object, but to depict the sensations it created. He said, “to paint is to register these color sensations.” He painted an unusally wide variety of subject matter, from portraiture, to landscape, to still life. Cézanne’s style of painting was quite different from that of some of the other Impressionists such as Renoir and Monet and his brush strokes were more deliberate than those of many of his impressionist contemporaries.

Cézanne’s Myopia: A Shortcut to Abstraction?


Although perhaps only coincidence, a large number of the Impressionist painters were “nearsighted” (ie. myopes). For example, Cézanne, and Renoir both suffered from and appeared to exploit the blur induced by their myopia in their work. Renoir was known to step back from the canvas so that it was out of focus. Cézanne, when offered spectacles raged, “take away those vulgar things!” Arguably, the sharp focus produced by corrective lenses worked against the global abstract style that the Impressionists sought to achieve. In short, uncorrected myopia may have offered a “shortcut” to abstracting the general forms and colors of the scene being painted.

In 1890, at age 51, Cézanne was diagnosed with diabetes which is speculated may have induced some concurrent retinopathy. Later, as he entered his 60s, Cézanne began to complain of “cerebral disturbances” that prevented him from moving about freely. The extent and nature of these cerebral disturbances, however, is unclear.


Edgar Degas, 1834–1917

September 9, 2017 by richard

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)edgar-degas-9269770-1-402

Edgar Degas was a French painter, sculptor, and engraver. He is best known for his paintings of dancers, and he excelled in capturing their movement and artistry.

Edgar_Degas_-_Dance_Class edgar-degas-young-spartans-exercising

Degas’ vision problems began in 1870, at age 36, probably due to retinopathy, or problems with his retina. He found it difficult to tolerate bright light, especially sunlight, and preferred to work indoors in more light-controlled environments, such as the opera and ballet stages he depicted in many of his paintings.


In 1874, at age 40, Degas also developed a loss of central vision, possibly from macular degeneration. His vision continued to deteriorate and by 1891, at age 57, he could no longer read print. As his vision changed, however, Degas learned to adapt. He began working with pastels instead of oils (since pastels require less precision), and took up sculpture, printmaking, and photography.

To better understand how Degas’s vision changed, it’s helpful to compare his paintings.

Degas painted A Woman with Chrysanthemums, which contains much fine detail, in 1865, when he was 31:woman_with_chrysanthemums 1865

In contrast, Degas painted Two Dancers, which contains broad brush strokes and very little fine detail, in the period between 1890-1898, when his vision problems were well advanced:


Edgar Degas completed this pastel titled “Woman Combing Her Hair,” in 1886. During the mid-1880s, he first began to talk about his “infirmity of sight.

3-woman-combing-her-hair-edgar-degas 1886Edgar_Degas_-_Woman_at_Her_Toilettedegas Woman drying her hair 1905



By the time Degas completed his eyesight had dropped to somewhere between 20/200 and 20/400. Marmor notes that after 1900, there was virtually no detailing of faces or clothing in Degas’ artwork.



William Utermohlen, 1933–2007

by richard

William Utermohlen 1933-2007-dementia

untermohlenfotoself portrait 1967 Self Portrait 1967


Portrait of Hat 1997 (4).tif

Portrait of Hat 1997 (4).tif

American artist William Utermohlen received a diagnosis of probable Alzheimer’s disease in 1995, at the age of 61. For the next five years, as his dementia worsened, he used his art to track the disintegration of his mind. Utermohlen’s self-portraits, such as the sketches above from 1996, offer a window into the artist’s experience of the progression of Alzheimer’s. Many of the stylistic changes in the depictions are likely the result of the quick decline of Utermohlen’s visuospatial and motor skills over the course of a few short years. Yet the portraits are also heartbreaking in that they expose a mind trying against hope to understand itself despite deterioration.

20120307202835-William_Utermohlen_-_Self_Portrait__split___1977__oil__charcoal__photograph_on_gesso_on_canvas__25.5_x_20_cm Self Portrait 1977



Alzheimer’s disease begins with short-term memory disorders. Often there is therefore anger and misunderstandings with fellow human beings. Mistrust and alienation are the result. Little by little, one’s own traces of long-term memory also disappear, and memories of encounters, events, learned and beloved disappear. Things are losing their original meaning, the language is becoming more meager, the red thread is lost, the personal expressiveness diminishes, social contacts become impoverished.


The artist William Utermohlen, in his self-portraits, depicts how his ego disappears. He becomes depressed and paints grief, fear, resignation and helplessness. His perspective, his gaze on the world, is changing. Details are losing importance. Visual information can be interpreted increasingly badly. His own reflection is alien, frightened and frightened. The loss of sense of space and depth perception, as well as disorientation, is accompanied by disquiet or indifference, and sometimes by an entanglement which frightens the environment. The world disintegrates into fragments. With the diminishing communication ability, the loneliness and loneliness increase. People close to the house and familiar items are no longer recognized.

The world is losing colour. Blue and green are hardly perceived anymore, become a background colour. Only yellow and red as well as the emotional experience survive almost to the last. Thus the images of Utermohlen become more and more abstract, almost surrealistic. They evolve from a living, spatial representation to a stylized, dull representation without depth. A shadow lies over the face. Eyes and mouth are more prominent. The pictures are sad, suggesting endless suffering and pain. In the end there remains only a skeletal, colourless dashed envelope.



Some Workmen Can Blame Their Tools: Artistic Change in an Individual with Alzheimer’s Disease. Sebastian J. Crutch et al. in Lancet, Vol. 357, pages 2129–2133; June 30, 2001.

Francis Bacon, 1909–1992

by richard

Francis Bacon (28 October 1909 – 28 April 1992) was an Irish-born British figurative painter known for his bold, grotesque, emotionally charged, raw imagery. He is best known for his depictions of popes, crucifixions and portraits of close friends. His abstracted figures are typically isolated in geometrical cage like spaces, set against flat, nondescript backgrounds. Bacon said that he saw images “in series”, and his work typically focuses on a single subject for sustained periods, often in triptych or diptych formats. His output can be broadly described as sequences or variations on a single motif; beginning with the 1930s Picasso-informed Furies, moving on to the 1940s male heads isolated in rooms or geometric structures, the 1950s screaming popes, and the mid-to-late 1950s animals and lone figures, the 1960s portraits of friends, the nihilistic 1970s self-portraits, and the cooler more technical 1980s late works.

francis-bacon-9194646-1-402images (11)imagesStudio

Bacon was brought up in Ireland and England Francis along with his 4 siblings. He was brought up by Nanny Lightfoot in an upper class family involved with race horse training, Francis had chronic asthma which affected him all his life and led to his demise. Francis was chastised and beaten on his father’s instruction for dressing up in women’s cloths and make-up. As a gay man he was estranged from his family and was restless travelling widely including  Berlin, Paris, Egypt and Africa and changing jobs many times. Richer older men attracted to him often supported him. He tried painting in 1930’s but his paintings were not critically praised which put him off. A drinker and gambler. In the Second World War he was not fit to serve but was an air raid warden in the ARP, but the dust of bombed buildings exacerbated his asthma and he had to go and live in the country.

His tripdych painting Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944. Gave him success in the art world. Drawing on Picasso and war time memories and many other influences Bacon developed a unique style.Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944.

Head VI, 1949Three_Studies_for_the_Portrait_of_Henrietta_Moraes 1963450px-Triptych_May-June,_1973

Head VI 1949                              Three studie Portrait Henrietta Maras, 1963                                                                                                Study Self Portrait 1985/86

500px-Study_for_a_Self-portrait—Triptych,_1985–86Painting_1946images (9)


Tryptych for self portrait 1973                                                         Painting 1946





Portrait George Dyer (lover) riding a bicyle.

Recently psychologists analysing his paintings and comments on them suggest Bacon Bacon’s paintings to be the reflexion of a rare central perception disorder called dysmorphopsia.

Bacon’s comments on his perceptual experience are found in published interviews. In his discussions with renown art critic Jean Clair, Bacon reportedly stated: “When I am watching you talking—I don’t know what it is – I see a kind of image, which constantly changes: the movement of your mouth, of the head, somehow; it keeps changing all the time. I attempted to trap this thing in the portraits.” Another distinguished critic, David Sylvester, further quoted him as saying “[…] in my case, with this disruption all the time of the image—or distortion, or whatever you like to call it—it’s an elliptical way of coming to the appearance of that particular body… And it needs a sort of magic to coagulate colour and form so that it gets the equivalent of appearance, the appearance that you see at any moment, because so-called appearance is only retrieved for one moment as that appearance. Still according to Sylvester, Bacon also acknowledged “I’m just trying to make images as accurately off my nervous system as I can. I don’t even know what half of them mean”

Gross image distortion is a rare clinical manifestation of disordered higher visual function. It presents as episodes of dynamic, ever-changing deformities, a condition referred to as dysmorphopsia (Kölmel, 1993).

Usually, the image initially appears normal but undergoes illusionary transformation if looked at for any length of time. Visages appear distorted, contracted or expanded, often in a dynamic manner; image may appear “cut up” and displaced .

The origin of Bacon’s visual percepts is unknown. Painter’s creativity has been ascribed to catalyzing effects of psychological disturbances generated by unhappy childhood .It is conceivable that cerebral injury had been caused during his childhood by violent blows reportedly inflicted by his father. Moreover, Bacon had asthma . Cerebral hypoxic-ischemic lesions could have occurred during asthmatic attacks, which were reported to be “so severe that Bacon would lie in bed for days, blue in the face, struggling for each breath” [1]

Bacon detailed description of distorted percepts point out the organic element in the grounds of his art. It might contribute to clarify Bacon’s “enigma” and assist art analysts to revisit foundations of Bacon’s major contribution to twentieth century painting. Furthermore, Bacon’s observational and artistic talents provide us with invaluable insights into the perceptual phenomena of dysmorphopsia. Whatever the exact reason Bacon’s art deriving from a troubled life and his impairment gives uis a great artistic heritage examining the anguish and suffering involved in the human condition.

The Hugh Lane Gallery Dublin purchased Bacon’s studio consisting of 7000 items and has recreated it in Dublin.

Dublin_Francis_Bacon_Gallery_The_Hugh_Lane749 Relocated Studio with 7000 items



[1] A neurological disorder presumably underlies painter Francis Bacon distorted world depiction Avinoam B. SafranNicolae Sanda,and José-Alain Sahel https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4148635/


Ketra Oberlande

September 8, 2017 by richard


Ketrr always had vision problems, but eventually all of her cone (color) and most of her rod (black and white) vision failed and she became blind. To answer the questions of curious and concerned friends, she embraced art as a way to show others how she was seeing the world. What surprised her, however, was how well-received her art was.

Ketra-Oberlander Silk DunesThe ending before the beginningdownload

Finding difficulties with getting to art shows, Ketra grew determined tho help other artists with mobility problems bridge the gap between creation and distribution of their art and founded Art of Possibility Studios, an organization that licenses the art of disabled artists and allowing them to create in their own space, yet still easily reach the world.


Interesting interview  http://thebadassproject.com/ketra-oberlander/