The Wrestlers (after Courbet)
I adore art, especially the masterpieces of old, and I spend a lot of my time gazing in admiration at the works of the old masters and the more recently celebrated artists of the 20th century. However, of all the works I see, only a few inspire me to recreate the work in my own way. Velázquez´s Las Meninas, Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne and Rubens’ Descent from the Cross are three such works which have recently driven me to paint the old masterpieces afresh, and a few weeks ago, another chance encounter had a similar effect.
It was on Instagram in fact that I stumbled across this most recent inspiration – a work by the French master, Gustave Courbet, The Wrestlers – which the instagram user had also discovered for the first time. Painted in 1853, in the typical realist style for which Courbet was best known, and which saw him break away from the classical genre style of painting which was predominant in the mid-19th century, the work is not one I have seen before, perhaps because it is housed in the Fine Arts Museum in Budapest. But as soon as I saw it on the screen of my iPhone, I was struck by the incredible energy of the wrestlers, and the brilliant realism of their taught muscles, interlinked as they strain and struggle against each other – a fantastically visceral image in contrast with the refined crowds watching them from civilised stands in the background.
It didn’t take long for my own version of the image to form in my head, following my new interpretative abstract style with which to give the work a new treatment. I have included some realistic elements myself, in homage to Courbet, but for the most part my reinterpretation is highly abstracted, not least the central figures themselves. This was by far the most difficult element to complete, and it took me some 20+ attempts before I was happy with the final abstract form. Unsure whether to separate the figures, or paint them as one, I latterly settled on a unified form, since the wrestlers in Courbet’s original are so obviously, almost erotically combined into a single star-like figure. The cadmium red colour however was clear as soon as I saw, around the same time as discovering the Courbet work, a photo of a brilliant red Alexander Calder mobile against a green grassy background. I knew from that moment that my wrestlers had to be red, creating a central contrast which is key to the balance of the painting. And so it was born.
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