Daniel Meiklejohn contemplates the female form

Variations on a theme
By ANNIE LARMON  |  January 18, 2011

‘FOR MYRA’ Surreal shadowing in Daniel Meiklejohn’s painting.
There is unlikely any subject more explored in the art-history continuum than the female form. Its articulation inherently addresses the elemental human condition, as sexuality, fertility, life, motherhood, nurture, desire, and violence manifested. From Titian to Courbet to John Currin, and Valie Export to Kiki Smith, the eroticized female nude has played vehicle for social commentary. The representation of the feminine body has in recent decades been more or less eschewed, as a revolt against both objectification and obvious metaphor. The female figure is now both a sensitive and laughable subject in art, simmering somewhere between dangerous political territory, easy cliché, and feminist redundancy. Anyone who has been to art school will tell you its employment requires a thorough conceptual justification.

Forty-one of Daniel Meiklejohn's meditations on the female figure currently crowd the walls of Fore River Gallery in "Pivot: Three Decades of Figurative Works." Abstraction borrowed from cubism and surrealism distorts the lustful postures of idealized young women to varying degrees, emphasizing or obscuring the specifics of heavy breasts and apple-bottoms. Religious, totemic, and natural imagery are delicately layered over the bold forms and strict line work of the featured women, implying some context, but ultimately existing simply as formal elements. Visual references pulled from Aztec culture, Dali, Klimt, Picasso, and psychedelia are rendered with science-fiction or anime polish. The overall effect is at times pulpy, and at others possesses the raw grotesqueness of an Otto Dix.

This generous selection of brightly hued oil paintings was culled from stacks and stacks of 300-something works created over the last three decades, most of which have been hidden from the public eye. While a handful of coffee-shop and restaurant shows pop up on Meiklejohn's resume, it seems his proliferation of work has been largely created in a vacuum, purely art for art's sake. Meiklejohn's subject matter does stray from the figural, but, in the artist's words, he keeps returning to the female form; everything he needs is there.

There is something refreshing about work created out of pure visceral necessity, relying less on conceptual or social intention and more on formal predilections. Meiklejohn's work habits imply that this work comes from a place of necessity, and the collection on display at Fore River does reek of obsession. There is a tangible honesty in these paintings, in their unabashed delivery of desire and fantasy, denying social pressures to censor or at least blatantly acknowledge the male gaze.

That said, a back gallery is set apart from the rest of the show, featuring "more explicit" paintings (a curatorial decision that begs for a discussion of the politics of sexual censorship). These works introduce sexual action to the female form, a materialization of the fantasy, and include male genitalia. The males, while never fully depicted, are portrayed as monstrous, their bodies green and blue, and their penises rendered as blistery mushrooms, entitled "Endangered Species." While the women Meiklejohn paints are clearly fantastical, existing only for the "male gaze," the male form is denied and rejected. In this fantasy, the men are grotesque.

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