“Frenhofer as Bacchus and model”

25x20cm, charcoal pencil

This drawing takes its inspiration from ‘’The Unknown Masterpiece’’, a short story by Honoré de Balzac. It was first published in the newspaper L’Artiste with the title ‘’Maître Frenhofer’’ in August 1831, then in Balzac’s Études philosophiques in 1837 and was integrated into the Comédie Humaine in 1846. In this novel, Nicolas Poussin offers his own lover, Gillette, as a model to the old master Frenhofer, well-known for his incredible dexterity. Anyway, Gillette, know as  ”la Belle noiseuse”, is so beautiful that Frenhofer is unable to achieve his painting, destroys it and became mad. He dies the same night. Paul Cézanne strongly identified with Frenhofer, once saying « Frehnofer, c’est moi » – ‘’I am Frenhofer’’. In 1921, Ambroise Vollard asked Picasso to illustrate Le Chef d’œuvre inconnu. Picasso was fascinated by the text and identified with Frenhofer so much that he moved to the rue des Grands-Augustins in Paris where Balzac located part of the action of his novel. There he painted his own masterpiece, ‘’Guernica”. Sidney Peterson’s 1949 avant-garde film ”Mr Frenhofer and the Minotaur” was based on the link between the short story and the work of Picasso. It draws on Picasso’s Minotauromachy, bringing Picasso’s work to life with the characters of Gillette, Poussin and others participating. Le Chef d’œuvre inconnu inspired the film La Belle Noiseuse directed by Jacques Rivette in 1991.

Here, in this 21st century drawing, the artist renews the theme, convoking the ancient Greek myths, as Frenhofer is now a Bacchus, so no more an artist deprived of the means of creation, but a god – a creatively fertile figure –  full of concupiscence, though he seems strangely still, as the Belle noiseuse is taking him over, in a purposeful way. It is as if the beautiful young human has become herself a Succubus, stepping outside of her model role to incarnate an evil force, able to deprive even a god of his power.This seizing scene, in which one can see Gillette overlapping Bacchus’ body, in a violent melting, echoes Picasso’s work, but departs also from it. The liminal faces, the bodies, only lightly sketched – though all of these elements are drawn like this of course deliberately -, the Dantean atmosphere which impregnates the scene, the unfinished, both inspired by the theme and by the artist’s own approach of this way of creating, are many characteristics one finds in John Gorman’s work. The subtle shifts he keeps introducing in his drawings, changing themes and ways of creating, inventing passages between the ancient profane myths and Christianity, or between the past masters’ art – including tragedy, philosophy, literature, cinema – and nowadays one, is more and more stupefying. Here, the group is so interwoven that one can only guess the curves of the model’s body, the static stature of the god, like frozen, the entire surface being agitated by haches, stains of red chosen as to indicate the passion which is playing here, the black areas suggesting powerfully the original drama. The composition is stupefying, the two bodies are only one, and arranged in space in such an impressive way that they create themselves this space, any other artefact being useless. An intriguing space, which nobody can say if it is an interior or an exterior one, though the term ‘’abstraction’’ would be a total misinterpretation. Therefore the artist leaves the viewer free to make himself his own interpretation of this absolutely stunning drawing.

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