Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Eric Gill

Mother Of ABusers

Rameses II & Bent Anat
Sculpture, not just the most plastic of the arts, is the most political. In cahoots with its bedfellow, architecture, sculpture's vision has dominated human landscapes for five millennia. Colossal works by Egyptian carvers of stone – artists whose lives we can barely imagine - still haunt the human psyche. Try blowing up the Pyramids, Mr Taliban. Imhotep's designs are MOAB proof, they consign all other wonders to the trump of history.

Gaze on these tiny figures of women, queens and princesses, curling round the calf muscles of giant pharaohs - apparently their fathers, bothers AND husbands. Ancient Egypt used to be thought of as a matrilineal society, which explained why its kings had to marry their mothers, sisters and daughters: to keep control of the royal family. Actually, explanations are for the birds; all most of us can do is stare in disbelief – if not dismay – at images created by this distant human society. While Shelley, in his sonnet Ozymandias, quotes an inscription on the pedestal of a broken statue in the desert,

Looks on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! such text (had it existed) could have been translated by the time he was writing. But surely, it's fair to assume all the gigantic figures of Rameses II (Florence Nightingale's great hero) represent the dominance of men over women in ancient Egypt. While arguments supposing a historical struggle between matriarchy and patriarchy twitter on (Engels, for example, with his dialectical twist on lapsarian fall theory), the evidence for an enduring aggressive male trumping of human society is stark. Carved in stone, it has outlived all the destructive efforts of the Taliban and so-called Islamic State. (Not that their scholars – sic - deserve any points for history.)
Gill WWI Memorial vs. Assyrian Warrior
It is curious - maybe predictable - how the sculpture and reliefs of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Anatolia came to inspire Western art of the early twentieth century. For example, how the triumphal art of Babylon and Nineveh is echoed in monumental works commemorating the First World War. The stylised human, animal and vegetable features on the clean lines of modernist buildings hark back to the starkness of figures seen at Mount Nemrut and the Meroitic Kush. The addition of these follies nowadays almost guarantees a building Grade One listed status. Moreover, the accessibility of such pieces (which Art Deco grew out of) meant that this type of expression achieved popular success – unlike Dada and Cubism. Since their creation, they have survived many changes of taste. They are even embraced by post-Modernists, fgs.

Why did barbaric, pre-Classical sculpture move artists to create pieces for modern churches, palaces of culture and the HQs of capitalism? Had the traditions of their antecedents turned moribund? Or where they simply reveling in the barbarism of the war years?
Gill's “Slaughter of the Innocents”
Gill, who never really went out of fashion, has survived revelations about his personal life that would have demolished him had he been alive now. Instead of tearing down his work and locking it up in some Vatican dungeon, he continues to be celebrated by curators and writers on art; and voices raised against him are muted by supporters and apologists. In fact, his acts of incest, paedophilia and bestiality are all seen as part of the show. This seems at odds with our post-Savile world, but it's a fact of life that Gill has been posthumously accorded artistic licence to rape his grateful, smiling children.

Does this mean the future may bring about a reassessment of child abuse? Sooner or later, may folks be saying it's quite alright so long as the kids themselves look back fondly and claim, well, it was just Daddy's way of loving us? Will the future gawp at us, shaking its head at our prudery? Will Allen Ginsberg's membership of NAMBLA (the North American Man/Boy Association) be lauded as the saintly act of a sexual pioneer? Notwithstanding the great archness of his poetry, wasn't he just standing up for men who wreck the lives of young boys?

Of course, all people are flawed. Even genuine saints have their peccadilloes to bear, along with their crosses. St Anthony of Padua, tripping out on acid, did take himself rather seriously. While preaching to the fish, he might have thought he was making a moat point, but at only 35 years old he was consumed with the very fire - ergotamine – that probably inspired his skill in the pulpit. Gill croaked on lung cancer before reaching old age. Maybe the gods punish those who abuse their powers? I don't think so. There are people getting away with abuse right now. At this very moment, the Jimmy Saviles of this world lurk in the lavatories of culture, snorting the finest cocaine and popping the cherries of youth. And some of their victims, I'm afraid, will never turn on their abusers. Many out of fear, yes. Others, like Ginsberg and Gill's daughters, out of solidarity. They just won't see what is done to them – and others - as wrong. Theirs is a special case. And this is how the blasted pharaohs live on, dragging their great hides into the 21st century to be reborn.

Just as Savile was cloaked in charity work and association with royalty, Gill is protected by a deep Roman Catholicism and - of course - that other old excuse, for the sake of his art. So when we admire the seductive curves of his drawings and sculptures, we mayn't connect their eroticism with incest & paedophilia. Not even the nude drawings of his daughters? Fie! Religion has a long history of shielding monsters while pontificating in sermons against the morality of the day. Let's not allow art to be subverted any more than it is already. Picasso was a misogynist, which is plain to see in Les Demoiselles D'Avignon. He was no friend to bulls, either.

Lion God of Meroë
And let us set religion's own scriptures against those they offer sanctuary. When Lot's family were escaping from Sodom, his wife was so loathe to leave their life in the fleshpots, she looked back and was turned to a pillar of salt. Thereafter, the daughters were forced to 'seduce' Lot and protect the family's blood line, creating the tribe of Moab. Later on, when hordes of Moabites invaded lower Palestine, they slaughtered the menfolk, while leaving the women and maidens.

Avast ye modern warriors of MOAB! Pierce the armour of the Savilites - but spare their victims and bairns.

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