The Figure Essay
Published Wednesday, 2 January 2002Depicting the figure provides an opportunity for the artist to explore and
articulate the human experiences found within the parameters of private and
The human form has been employed in a variety of ways in
visual arts; figurative painting is an intrinsic mode of representation within
the arts. It offers an exploration of identity and articulates concepts about
self and others. Australian artists such as Deborah Klein, Euan Macleod, Graeme
Drendel, Terry Batt and Rick Amor, all use the human form to express personal
and social values and beliefs. Figurative art expresses the social, ephemeral,
physical and symbolic concerns of the artist.s personal and social values and
beliefs. Figurative art expresses the social, ephemeral, physical and symbolic
concerns of the artist.
Figurative art, historically, reveals differing concerns and visual
conventions, which convey specific ideas as well as providing evidence and
personal accounts of individuals throughout history. The style and treatment of
the human figure can reflect the issues and aesthetic tradition of the artist's
time and place.
The appearance and treatment of the subject may differ as stylistic conventions
change over history, but the constant element offering a link between the
artist and audience is the human body. Figurative art provides a personal
account of the subject and the artist alike.
Throughout the history of Australian art, there has been a constant search for
the authenticity of personal experience, both for the indigenous artists and
those of colonial origin. Common to this treatment of figurative art is the
intrinsic nature of the human form to represent the real, ideal and symbolic.
Artist utilise the body as a sign of personal/social ideological belief, it
reflects he concerns and perception of human nature of the time of production.
It provides a bridge that links the past with the present presenting a
historical insight to the artist's and subject's world. This is demonstrated
with the treatment of the figure seen in the colonial artist John Glover, the
antipodean artist Albert Tucker and the contemporary painter Euan Macleod;
where meaning in each artists' is manifested through the depiction of the
figure. Each artist reflects particular concerns of representation in term of
the real, ideal and symbolic. It can not be contested that the human figure in
art maintains a sense of authority and authenticity. It offers a window into
the world of the subject and of the artist and the environment they each
Postmodern artists, such as Klein, Amor, Macleod and Drendel amplify their
conceptual concerns through their treatment of the figure in their art. The
human form portrays an essence of humanity and being. Within this contemporary
context the treatment of the figure vacillates between alienation and
assimilation in a person and social environment. The theme of alienation
highlights the human body as a symbol of 'marginality' within personal,
psychological and physical context. Specific reference can be made to Klein in
terms of 'cultural alienation' in addition to Drendel and Macleod who examine
Assimilation is the suggestion of social acceptance or the main streaming of
this genre, the figure is employed as metaphor that cultural adaptation.
'Cultural assimilation' could be construed in the work of Dean Bowen and Terry
Batt. Although each of the mentioned artists deal with the human form in their
art making, it is the diversity and ambiguity of style and treatment that makes
each of these artists interesting to study. The subject matter may differ
somewhat yet each artist makes a marked differentiation in approach (both
technical and conceptual). Each artist reveals how the figure is placed in an
environment to give meaning through the physical and imaginative properties of
the art making process. The human body in a variety of genres ranging from
portraiture to the nude reveals how the artist weaves personal and public
symbols and signs to create innovative visual expression.
By Craig Malyon