The Cornishman, Thursday 28 October 2010
SUDDENLY coming face to face with the unclothed female figures by the Dutch -born artist Marcelle Hanselaar in her exhibition Biting the Bullet being held in the Millennium Gallery, St Ives, is a shock.
Paintings that make you re-think what you may have always thought about nude studies, they bring to mind something the author and art critic John Berger says in his Ways Of Seeing: “To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others, and yet not recognised for yourself.”
Pictures that acknowledge how much is hidden by the clothes we wear, the messages that are sent out by our choice of dress, and how vulnerable we are when naked, although they possess an instant erotic charge this is quickly defused and overtaken by an overwhelming sense that they are about much more than the exploration of the “pure form”. Neither studies of the naked or the nude figure, Marcelle Hanselaar’s stripped figures, of both the female and male kind, are metaphors for the human condition. Whether part clothed as in Replay or totally without clothes as in The Visitor, if they tell us anything it is that they have already bitten the bullet and discovered the taste, as it were, to be distasteful.
While there is a suggestion of landscape in one or two of her compositions, for the most part, their setting is nowhere and everywhere. Just as viewers can place them wherever they like, so they are at liberty to make up whatever stories they like about them.
There are disturbing elements here that are difficult to come to terms with, from the noose around the neck of the woman in Bonds, to the barbed wire around the waist of the man in That Inevitable Moment 3; not to mention the defensive positions taken by several of them that make one wonder who or what is about to attack them, but the one constant that binds them together is their power to attract attention.
Naked or nude, female or male, they demand to be looked at and to be thought about.
To again quote John Berger: “They create an eternal present of immediate expectation.” And they do not disappoint.
Neither do the etchings in her series Ways Of The World. With these she throws everything at us. Packed with people and creatures doing everything from making love to murdering one another, the stuff of nightmares rather than dreams, these show us the underbelly, the “red in tooth and claw” side of human nature.
Born in Rotterdam, an artist who now lives and works in London, a member of The London Group and of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, although she studied briefly at The Royal Academy, The Hague, in the early 1960s, as a painter in oils she is entirely self-taught.
Her first solo show in this gallery and an impressive debut by any standard, as bold as it is bare, as deep as it is different, Marcelle Hanselaar’s exhibition Biting The Bullet should not be missed.
Admission is free, and it can be seen in the Millennium Gallery, Street-an-Pol, St Ives, 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday, until November 13.