In art, just as in life, ability to create a strong first impression is often the only way to secure a second glance. Because, as Robert Hughes famously noted, full contemplation speed is 30 seconds per masterpiece.
On my recent visit to my favourite art dealer, she took out two female portraits by Dynnikov that turned out to be, actually, four. The artist was so destitute during his lifetime that he often used both sides of his canvases. I wrote about Victor Dynnikov before, covering his still lifes, his flowers with women, animals, and even philosophical musings about life and death.
The 2 double-sided paintings represent four very different characters…
I am not a big fan of categorising people into archetypes, but I know nothing of these girls, so, my immediate archetypal take on them is like this:
In simple, misogynist terms, it can be reduced to a few simple recommendations or commands (men are from the militaristic Mars, so commands are best):
The reality about these girls can very different, I suppose. The “Run!” girl, having wiped off her blood-red lipstick, can become a most caring wife; the “Marry” girl can turn out to be a ruthless boss, et cetera.
For a moment I thought that the girl at the back of each portrait was an alter ego version of the girl at the front.
As I am a man, my take on the portraits might have been biased by my gender. Is it the same for women? Is it different for other men? Tell me how you see them!
These girls can’t be identified beyond their names now, but what a journey it could be to find out what they have become!
The power of these portraits is that they give the observer an immediate strong impression of the personality of the portrayed woman – and it is this initial punch that makes the observer interested in discovering more.
That power comes from their eyes, the tilt and turn of their heads, their hair, accessories, and clothes, but the background also plays a role.
Here’s a bulleted list of artistic devices for one of the portraits: it’s front and back side.
The Girl to Marry
- Absence of strong contrasts makes the painting “tender”
- Orange reflections on the edges (face, shoulder) imply there’s more to the character than just “tenderness” and “softness”. Orange also adds “warmth” to “tenderness”.
- She appears as if coming around a corner or opening a door, which makes her “sudden”: she just came out to the observer, and so the observer must react, not just watch her, must engage with her.
- She tilts her head as if she’s ready to listen, as if she’s in expectation of the observer’s reaction. This, as well as the angle of her entry. is accentuated by the collar of her blouse: it is very tidy and symmetrical. So, the collar also tells you she’s very organised and attentive to detail.
So, my dear observer, don’t make a mistake. She’s watching you as much as you’re watching her, except that she’s watching you without prejudice or judgement. Her gaze may not be piercing, but she’s taking you in, seeing the real you with her huge blue eyes.
Somehow, It is both mesmerising and unnerving.
The GIrl to Bed
- Her cold blue eyes nail down the observer, and if that doesn’t happen the observer must see his nearest oculist at once.
- The red band holding her hair is like a theatre gun that must fire at some point if it’s taken onto the set. Just imagine the passionate moment when she tears the ribbon off, and her hair cascade down on her shoulders.
- She wears a robe that doesn’t seem to have any zippers or buttons. I don’t have to spell it all out.
- The background is passionate red, with a dark burgundy area to the left of her that implies it is not going to be all red, passionate, and easy. The observer is given a trade-off: surrender to those blue eyes, and full lips and face some dark consequences or apologise, and run before it’s too late.
Now you can exercise your art appreciation skills and think what makes the other portrait interesting (click on the images below to get a bigger version):
The Girl to Mary – pensively angelic but give her 10 years and will turn into a needy nag with constant headache – beware, there is more behind that corner; The Girl to Bed – OK, exotic, and obviously willing, there is a feline alertness in the position of her head, probably smokes in bed but quite a predictable type; The nerdy one with the glasses – I agree she must be good to hire as she seems the spinsterly, frumpy type who doesn’t mind working on holidays – kind of Amy from the Big Bang Theory – wearing a nondescript colour, she’s turned her back to everything varied and colourful, the rounded shoulders and the downward slant of her myopic eyes tell me that she has resigned to her sisterly role; the one to run from – now for me she is the real man eater. It is too late to run – she’s just locked the door behind her and slipped the key in her pocket. She is not there to give herself but to take you – look at the resolute angular shapes of her body and hair and the dirty look in her eyes. Clench your teeth and think of Mother Russia ;)!
Now you made the last one really scary.
Otherwise, I love absolutely each and every word in your comment )))
The woman with the shades appears withdrawn, sad… pretty but does not appear to know it …
The woman to marry: lovely, sweet, a mother for all those beautiful babies – but I also ponder if she might be a strictly “procreation” and not “recreation” kind of girl. Something to her posture speaks to shyness – and I would anticipate her bedroom looking like Martha Stewart’s and feature no less than 8 ornamental pillows on her bed and fresh flowers.
Bed girl … what bedroom? We have this field and the star overhead … something about her deep gaze speaks to being more natural, at ease …
Run girl – narrowed eyes, sizing you up, savvy … Maybe it is the clothes or her very erect posture, but something speaks to high maintenance – I definitely get the impression it will be more about what you can do for her versus what she is willing to offer you.
I feel we all see them more or less the same, but we relate to them differently. I loved you take on the girl with the shades who is pretty but does not appear to know it, and the girl to bed – with the naturalness in her gaze that you noticed. Thank you!
It seems to me that the girl to Marry is lost in thoughs, watching something in her interior.
I think that the four portrait are not of the same woman, but of four different women.
The blue eyes of the second portrait are “speaking” and “asking”.
I don’t like the other two portraits, but I don’t know why.
Hello – I think the artist directed the Girl to Marry to look at the observer on purpose ) Yes, they are different women. I love the way you phrased your comment about the second girl, that her eyes are both “speaking” and “asking”. I couldn’t word it better! )
The other two… well, they are not the types we instantly like, but I meet more people who are like them than the first two.
All four paintings seem to say the same thing. “Are you the one?”
The last too you might add “Good God, are you the one?”
To me, the first painting is the only one that has some charm. She could be a real person. The other paintings are more of a caricature of a woman.
I won’t argue, except that I feel you rely too much on the first impression. The nerdy girl in shades? Hm, she’s quite a person, I believe…
The one with the shades looks like she’s at a masquerade party. Yes, it is first impressions. I wouldn’t hang any of those paintings in my living room.