Is painting able to lead us away from the cheapening effect of the male gaze?

Recently I pondered that ‘to make paintings of ‘psychological and social urgency’ requires (for me still) a rejection of pure skill and an attempt to use the particularly ‘present’ quality of oil paint.

The act of trying to make meaningful, relevant work about how people actually are deserves vital, risky and exploratory ways of making.

Might painting be able to remove some of the layers of preconception that can hinder (or at least change) our interaction as global villagers?

Bronwen Clune wrote an article in the Guardian on 20 March 2014 in which she expresses dismay that ‘respected male writers’ can write about ‘powerful women’ with so little awareness of the cheapening effect of the ‘male gaze’, specifically when ‘culture writers do horrible things with words’ in response to Scarlett Johannson.

It’s well worth a read at

Happening to browse original art for sale on eBay (please look at my few bits for sale if you like) it was depressing and probably predictable that ‘nude’ artwork is often about depictions of womens’ bodies that are tawdry and rather more to do with fantasy than respect. Any search for the truth about each other is not evident, so why can’t painting reaffirm itself as a purist, essential and a Good Thing? This is not prudishness, but a plaintive cry.

I spend much time painting the female body perhaps on some level because, as  Bronwen Clune says ‘let’s face it, women’s bodies are delightful things to look at’. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if such painting could provide pleasure, inherent respect and beauty all at once? Images of Picasso’s stylised female (in this instance) genitalia and his rather obvious (male) phallic responses come to mind of course, but at least his maverick and so skilful hand was describing his personal desires so graphically, not a generic set of idealised female attributes, as painting has so often done in the past.

Art Under Attack recently featured the Rokeby Venus and the suffragette’s attack on the idealised body Velazquez painted so beautifully (in at least two senses) so this is hardly a new thought, but might it be unresolved still? This is one of my attempts at a resolution ….


Caught old Degas JONATHAN ELLIS oils 121 x 77 cm 25 March 2014

Caught old Degas
121 x 77 cm
25 March 2014


I know that using a Degas statue is at once ‘easy’ and also perhaps worrisome, given his unfair reputation as a voyeur …. John Berger (in Shape of a Pocke, I think) argues Degas’ case brilliantly – that he was protective not peeping.



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