16 June 2023

Hélène Leloup and the object of beauty


I have bought lots of artwork over the years but I'm certainly not a collector. Mostly, I buy things I like, but in the past I have often bought paintings and drawings to help out friends who were going through hard financial times. It was a way to support them even if I wasn't necessarily compelled by some deep feeling about the work, something I couldn't live without.. 

But being a painter I am awfully glad that we still have collectors who regularly buy work from artists most of whom are at the mercy of an insensitive and uncomprehending world. Of course, we often read about the celebrity auctions between very wealthy people and a handful of selected artists upon whom the current taste and fashion is receptive, but this can all change in the blip of an interest rate move.

Yet, I have also always sensed another level of art compulsion that worked just underneath that really big money wheel rotating in the silver sky overhead where reside your average folks who just buy 'Art' because they really like it. And some of these people really live and breath it. They consume art and creativity on a daily basis the way most people now consume entertainment and fast food. (Full disclosure: Though I don't actually eat fast food, I do like entertainment for I am not a complete snob even if I still believe in proper etiquette and an interesting conversation.

But I'm really happy that in this oft-times cold and cruel world there are still people who breath and flourish in the middle of these mysterious and unruly storms from which Art is often ejected. Australia is not a country where Art is appreciated at all, But I say this this with compassion because its (mostly white) society is still immature and still developing, so who knows?? 

Culture, like all organic things, both cerebral and obscure, appear to take forever to develop and only curious people have need for it.

Thankfully though, here in Australia, Aboriginal culture is very old and somewhat appreciated (with lukewarm applause) so all is not yet lost here. But the European implant (like me!) still have a long way to go.

Where am I going with is? I am going to the image above, one that captivated me when I saw it this morning in an advertisement. To live with this one, yes, I would beg, borrow and steal. 

That look! The sophistication of simplicity, the pathos of humanity in the face of existence is treated here with dignity and compassion. I would give away all my riches to create such a thing.

I am always on the the prowl for visual imagery. I seem to screen-shot so many images that my phone is like an over-stuffed wallet that one sees in the back pocket of an accountant when he reaches over the buffet to grab three dinner rolls. I am a visual person. Thankfully, I always have been. Curious too, but that is another story irrelevant to this one-sided conversation.

Apparently, Hélène Leloup, (a wonderful name) was also curious because she left her Parisian home for Africa as a young student and she returned a very changed person. She eventually became an important dealer of African and Oceania artefacts while introducing the West to Dogon and Mbembe sculpture among so much else. I know nothing about her, I'd never heard of her before, but like so many extraordinary Parisians she is an unusual woman who has lived an uncommon life.

But what I like in her story is that she lived for something mysterious, something so exotic that it transformed her life completely. That happens to all extraordinary people in so many various fields of work. But that also really happens a lot to people who have been bitten by the Art bug.

So, all this suddenly reminds me of a wonderful film from back in the 1990's with John Malkovich and Andie MacDowell; The Object of Beauty. It's a deliciously depicted tale of very bad behaviour in a high-end London hotel where a deaf-mute chambermaid steals a small Henry Moore statuette from a spoiled, beautiful-looking American couple. When caught at the end of the film the maid was asked why she had taken it, to which she replied that "it spoke to her".  

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