Although I wanted to use this exercise to explore an artist outside the canon, I could not resist the opportunity to explore Egon Schiele’s drawings and to try to discover why they are so disturbing and fascinating.
His work is a century old (ca. 1905 till his death in 1918) and yet his exploration of the human body remains shocking even today. Accustomed as we are to naked or almost naked bodies (in films, commercials, etc), when we faced Schiele’s images we come to suspect that we are only used to a certain kind of naked body (preferably feminine, sensual but passive at the same time, smooth and consequently not that alive). We see nudes, and not just any kind of naked body.
Schiele’s drawings do not show nudes (according to the free definition I gave above), but bodies that are alive, that belong to someone and that, though naked, show and hide a persona whose intimacy and secrets we cannot reach. His figures are not the plain and passive model we are so used to seeing. Far from being insipid and empty, his figures bear strong characters, especially noticeably in their gaze. His work is also interesting in the fact that he equally explores the feminine and the masculine body (he produced many self-portraits), though the female body is usually presented in a more erotic form.
I would now like to explore the technique by which his drawings reach the described effects.
- Lines: There is a strong opposition between flat areas and areas oversaturated with lines (high frequency areas versus low frequency areas). In the high frequency areas the lines are edgy and broken, while in the low frequency areas they slowly swirl and meander. The opposition is reinforced by a different treatment of the colors: in one area there are pronounced contrasts, while in the other pastel tones predominate.
- Diagonal composition: It maximizes the impression of movement and gives expression to the scene depicted. The bodies seem to be floating on a violent river of textile.
- Posture of the bodies: Their position goes against this torrent of movement and expression. They remain somehow introverted, creating a world closed to the viewer.