Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Drawing on the Classics

Nothing could be more boring then talking about work, but the truth is, I've had some fun stuff to do recently.

Auckland Journalist Siena Yates ran a two part feature in Fairfax's Your Weekend magazine cover the last two weeks, taking a look at the perceived New Zealand ideal for men and women.

This was quite rightly deemed cover material and I snatched up the opportunity to produce the illustrations, although I was also aware this topic could be somewhat contentious. As we all know, humour is the often best approach in these situations, and Sarah the editor seemed to agree.  The Male cover was up first, and she listed these unearthed attributes, athletic, financially independent, good with a barbeque, adept with DIY, a beer drinker and, surprising no-one, an All Black with a farming background.  As I wondered how on earth I was going to combine all of these elements into a single image, she contributed the final element which suddenly made it all click together: "perhaps something like an anatomical drawing..."

Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci
Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man might have been used in popular culture to the point of cliché, but he does have the advantage of having four hands to hold some tokens of the elements required (a beer can, hammer, barbeque fork and credit card).  Gumboots and an All Black jersey were easy to add and it almost drew itself.  I was keen to keep it in the style of the original drawing, rather than try to 'update' it, because why wouldn't you preserve the essence of this timeless image as much as possible?
Vitruvian Man was drawn by da Vinci around 1490, based on the correlations of ideal human proportions with geometry described by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius.  He believed that the human figure was the principal source of proportion among the Classical orders of architecture, and da Vinci's figure describes geometric forms, surrounded by notes on human proportions written in his reversed 'mirror writing.

The following week's female version was arrived at very quickly with an equally well-referenced classical artwork, actually painted within ten years of Vitruvian Man, by Sandro Botticelli in Florence.
The Birth of Venus is long held as an ideal of feminine beauty, but unlike da Vinci's work is not routed in real anatomy or even physics. (As well as being improbably proportioned, Venus would not only topple over but also take the scallop shell with her).

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli
The curiously linear and unfashionably 2-D approach which Botticelli takes also suited me because of the even quicker turn-around time for this cover.
Elongated neck or not, Venus proved well-suited for adaptation to a kiwi ideal, her hand positions easily able to brandish symbols of casual sophistication (a glass of New Zealand Pinot Noir) and can-do independence (a power drill). Track suit bottoms and jandals conveyed the findings that New Zealand women appear to simply care less about embodying a feminine ideal, while turning the scallop into a paua shell was as inevitable as the All Black jersey on the previous week's cover.

As I mentioned, this series of articles and covers could have been rife with difficulties, attracting the outcry which media generalisations so often do.  The fact that the subject was treated with some degree of humour appears to have distracted from this, perhaps reinforcing the conclusion that New Zealanders appear to take body image a little less seriously than some cultures do. 'On ya!

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