the art of love

ARNDEAN GALLERY Cork Street, London

curated by Paul Wynter -LondonArt

See the article Natasa Radovic exhibits in London (The Art of Love) by Milka Sculac Sennett (PDF article in Croatian) NOVI LIST, 8 February 2004.

Live sculpture of Rodin's Kiss from the opening night

© LondonArt 2004

Londonart call for artists attracted over 300 artists. Artists were invited to submit works on the theme of LOVE for an exhibition at the Arndean Gallery in Cork Street, London, from the 9th-14th February. Our selection panel will select around 100 works for show in the exhibition; all submissions can be viewed on our website on the link above, along with an introduction to the history of love in art...

'Love is a canvas, furnished by nature and embroidered by imagination.'

Art has been an expression of human thoughts and feelings for almost as long as they have been felt. Through the centuries, artists have turned to love as their inspiration, in literature and in poetry as well as the visual arts. The classical myths of ancient Greece and Rome provided ample instances of love stories and figures of love for them to draw on. The Renaissance in Italy was a time when artists looked back to these tales; depictions often were centred around Venus, goddess of Love. Both aesthetically and intellectually, the classical stories provided a perfect subject matter. Aesthetically the female nude suggested the sensual nature of love, a timeless ideal form, whilst a knowledge of the classical stories complemented a desire to emulate a by-gone age. Venus appears in many scenes, more often than not as a reclining nude, ideal in both beauty and connotations of love. If love existed in an ideal world, then this is what it would look like. A combination of female beauty and immortal dedication to the pursuit and championing of love.

But even though artists were depicting love as an ideal based on classical myths, their inspiration could often be based in the real world. Botticelli's 'Primavera' has the central figure of Venus looking out at us. The painting was commissioned by Lorenzo de' Medici, who was a leading figure in Florentine humanist culture and poetry, and who was in love with a woman called Lucrezia Donati. The figure of Venus was as such a portrait of the woman he loved, the imagined portrait of the goddess of love is emancipated in the real presence of Lorenzo's actual object of affection. A portrait of a loved one represents private hopes and experience, the portrayal of love, a public idea.

Just as the Renaissance saw love as existing pictorially in an ideal world of beauty and immortality, Manet's 'Olympia' of 1884 went and turned the tables on these classical references. A modern day reclining Venus, she signified a shift in the approach of the artist towards conventional ideas and inspiration. This Venus is actually a prostitute in her boudoir, a signature black ribbon around her neck. The female nude no longer was an innocent and pure vision of love - realism brought along with it the desire of artists to react and incorporate in their work, social issues to do with the world around them. They didn't want to look back to Arcadian times of the past; they wanted to show real people doing real life situations. And so began the desire of the artist to use art as a vehicle to express their own personal response to the social issues they felt were important.


'In our life there is a single colour, as on an artist's palette, which provides the meaning of life in art. It is the colour of love.' Marc Chagall. Twentieth century artist.
Chagall lived through both world wars, a Jewish refugee who fled to America during the occupation of the Second World War. Most artists at one time or another experienced war in their lives, especially in the last century as communication and warfare became so advanced that war reached global scale twice. Artists have the power to draw massive attention to issues prevalent in the world around us, and many see art as one of the most powerful mediums to express social issues.
Chris Ofili, a young British artist, incorporates racial issues beautifully and humorously into his paintings. In 2000 he started his 'Afromantics' series of three paintings depicting the love story of a black couple. Ofili is drawing on what he saw as the old-fashioned values of Afro love that still existed, his inspiration coming form an illustration he saw on the back of a dry cleaning sign in the Caribbean. All three paintings have the same colour scheme - the colours of the pan-African flag. Green for the lost kingdom, black for the fallen and red for the blood that was shed. Ofili is on the surface presenting a traditional tale of boy meets girl, but seeping into it an underlying message of Afro culture and awareness. How many other young British artists have raised the profile of racial issues in art so wittily and peacefully?

Art has the capacity to bring attention to imperfections in society and provoke reactions that can help change the way people think. The conscience of the artists is powerful and far-reaching. In the past where love was depicted as an ideal in an ideal world, for gods and beautiful people, nowadays, love is conveyed in art through the way it can fight prejudices and stand for freedom of expression. In the Western world, freedom of expression is what is constantly challenging and driving artists, but where there is no freedom, the existence of art itself becomes a symbol of oppression. Freedom is a form of love in society, where art struggles to exist it shows the love in society trying to overcome its oppressor.
Until recently in Afghanistan, the Taliban would forbid paintings depicting living figures, as they thought it highly blasphemous for a human to attempt to re-create a living object. But portraits of loved ones that had died were a tradition that was very important to many and so artists would receive commissions in secret. One of the countries leading artists, Mohammed Yousef Asefi, who was also a doctor, was among them. He defied the Taliban one step further when he heard that many figure paintings in the National Art Gallery were to be destroyed and decided to intervene and save them. The Taliban were told that he was to perform restoration work on the paintings, but instead watercolour was used to paint over figures in the oil paintings. With the Taliban gone, a damp sponge was all that needed to be used to reveal the original saved paintings beneath. He saved around 80 works, the Taliban destroyed 400. Such brave defiance for the sake of paintings is a symbol of inspiring loyalty towards art. Many aspects of art the Taliban dictated - the destruction of old works, the censor of much-loved portraits of dead loved ones, even artists prevented from teaching anything more than calligraphy. Now artists are free to paint figures and everyone can enjoy painting once again. Lack of freedom and harsh punishment associated with the Taliban have now been replaced by hope and freedom for artists to create what they wish. This is not about love between two people, but love as a symbol of freedom and a metaphor for hope for a better world.

Nowadays love can be anywhere where a prejudice is overcome or some positive warmth of humanity is felt. The saint associated directly with love is St Valentine, but the original story behind the commercially pushed day in February, is entirely rooted in a combination of a fight for freedom and the human right to love. Valentine was a priest in third century AD Rome. The Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers because they were not distracted by thoughts of home and the one they loved. He therefore made it illegal for young men to marry, in the hope that he would start winning more battles. Valentine however continued to marry young lovers in secret. When he was discovered he was put to death, on February 14th, the day now traditionally associated with love.

Hannah Watson - LondonArt