Culture As a Mirror In Works of the Dutch Artist Caroline Westerhout
Caroline Westerhout is a portrait artist born in Weert, 1970. She studied at the Graphic Lyceum in Eindhoven and, after graduation, worked as a graphic designer. At the beginning of the 2000s, Westerhout started practicing oil painting. Her designer and painter skills allow her to combine elements of traditional fine art with graphic effects.
Fig. 1. Rembrandt versus me (saatchiart.com)
Klimt and Courbet
Westerhout majorly produces self-portraits that reflect her inner state. She often exploits Klimt’s ornate manner, initiating the dialog with a painter. Westerhout seems to project images of great mythological women onto herself and gets a vivid mixture of realism and mythology. Despite decorativeness, her version of Judith looks more naturalistic and vulnerable than the original that depicts this biblical character as femme fatale. The remake of Courbet’s scandalous Origin of the World entitled Mea Vulva raises questions of misogyny and birth-giving.
Fig. 2. Left: Klimt, Judith (1901) Right: Westerhout, Judith After the Trial (conchigliadivenere.files.wordpress.com)
Fig. 3. Left: Courbet, The Origin of the World (1866) Right: Westerhout, Mea Vulva (conchigliadivenere.files.wordpress.com)
Fig. 4. Columbus’s Chicken (artwanted.com)
This painting can be considered an ironic reply to men of art and their understanding of women. The title is connected with an idiom egg of Columbus, which means a simple solution to a complicated problem. Supposedly, someone said to Columbus that the discovery of America wasn’t a big deal. Columbus replied with a suggestion to make an egg stand on its’ tip. After unsuccessful attempts of the opponent, he tapped the egg on the table to crash the round top and set it up. Columbus’s Chicken plays with male concepts of mysterious femme fatale, saying that the mystery lies in the absence of any mystery. At the same time, it pays attention to the ambiguity of the reproductive process, which is both madly complicated and offensively primitive. The word chicken stresses the biological attitude to a woman as an incubator for new lives.
Fig. 5. Left: Klimt, Danae (1908): Right: Westerhout, Jealousy (artwanted.com)
Another painting conceptually inspired by Klimt is Jealousy. The pose of a reclining girl resembles the well-known Danae. The absence of golden coins replaced with a simple dot pattern is remarkable. This image invites us to speculate upon what stands behind it. Is this girl jealous of someone’s sexual experience? We can easily imagine Danae telling her maidservant about a night with a god. In this case, the painting may indirectly point at the social pressure connected with issues of human sexuality when society makes sex a taboo and, at the same time, forces young people to try it not to be an outcast. Another Danae-like painting, Undisclosed Desire, depicts a lying woman in the act of masturbation, which looks like a manifest of self-sufficient sexuality. Curiously, some critics considered Klimt’s version of the Greek myth autoerotic and narcissistic as Danae fills almost all the canvas while Zeus plays the part of a pattern. From this point of view, Westerhout’s Desire is Klimt’s version pushed to its’ very limit with the male principle eliminated.
Fig. 6. Undisclosed Desire (conchigliadivenere.files.wordpress.com)
The Trial of Paris
The painting My Jurisprudence seems to be another reply to the masters of culture as it apparently uses the famous story of the judgment of Paris. Three women painted in Klimt’s manner are goddesses Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena. We can’t tell who is who here as they lack individuality like ladies portrayed in sonnets of medieval poets. They are passive, yet the male figure is captured by a squid-like creature. Goddesses can’t decide who’s the most beautiful, and Paris can’t judge as he stands as accused. It’s not the judgment of Paris, but the trial is of Paris. The only person who judges is Caroline Westerhout herself. And the form of her presence in the picture indicates the role she plays here. The ornamental male god of Gustav Klimt is finally eliminated because his functions are taken by a Columbus chicken. Who thinks the chicken and the god have nothing in common can try to lay an egg.
Fig. 7. My Jurisprudence (artwanted.com)
Fig. 8. Man and Woman (conchigliadivenere.files.wordpress.com)
Fig. 9. Foolish Pride
Fig. 10. I Know
Fig. 11. The Box (artwanted.com)
Fig. 12. My Green Heart (conchigliadivenere.files.wordpress.com)
Fig. 13. It’s My Party and I Cry if I Want to (conchigliadivenere.files.wordpress.com)
Fig. 14. Wake Me Up When September Ends
Fig. 15. Blue Room
Fig. 16. conchigliadivenere.files.wordpress.com
Fig. 17. conchigliadivenere.files.wordpress.com
Fig. 18. Grey
Fig. 19. Flesh
Fig. 20. Fluid
Fig. 21. I won’t fall apart
Fig. 22. Tender
Fig. 23. Breasts
Fig. 24. Unchain My Heart
Fig. 25. Shadowplay
Fig. 26. The Straight Jacket
Fig. 27. Censor Me
Fig. 28. Landscape
Fig. 29. Comfort zone
Fig. 30. All of Me
Fig. 31. Come Undone
Fig. 32. Muse post mortem (conchigliadivenere.files.wordpress.com)
You can check out Westerhout’s recent work on Instagram..!!
Sources: caroline.exto.org; conchigliadivenere.files.wordpress.com; artwanted.com
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