Muse en Abyme

The working title was ‘self-portrait with model’ a trope that raises the hackles of feminists everywhere. The drawing itself was inspired by a work in another similar un-PC trope, Gerome’s famous slave market paintings. He painted both front view and back.

The male gaze, they say, creates possession of the female by the male, true, but isn’t a gaze returned, and thereby the male possessed by the female? And aren’t those their goals, don’t they both desire to be desired? Artists look but do they gaze? Do they to desire to be desired or do they desire to observe and not participate in the sad mise en abyme?

In Gerome’s painting there are faces that gaze. And one that does not. The male faces in the crowd desire the slave who does not return their gazes. No desire/be desired gyre here. There are arms that gesture like the faces that gaze to possess her.  Sad to say though, that the faces that gaze have no arms and arms that bid have no faces. Desire and possession; where there is one there can’t be the other.

Stop looking at the naked backside and look closely at the bottom right of Gerome’s original or this homage and gaze at the second woman who’s gazing at you. The painting’s point of view is from the back of the stage where only the more slaves would be. Does Gerome put the viewers of his art in that ironic role that of gazers possessed; possessed by both the body of one woman and the gaze of another?

Let me get back to the working title. It’s a mash-up of the studio scene with artist and model and both the painting in the studio and the painting that inspired it. Imagine that the artist works “from life” (he doesn’t) and you can image the model as a real naked person. Look at the image as a drawing and the model becomes nude. This parallels the Gerome, where the model, for him, was naked and she’s portraying a slave who, for the Romans, was also naked, but in the art they become, for gazers, nude.

In this image as opposed to Gerome’s, the model portrays a chimera; half naked she’s a subject and half -manikin/puppet, she’s an object. She connects the imaginary studio to Gerome’s imaginary slave market with her disconnected arms. One arm is Gerome’s, an arm that bids, desires; the other is the artists, holding the, necessary for self-portraiture, mirror.Artist as model, as slave, and as gazed and gazed. Muse en abyme.

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