Figures without clothing, sculptures, paintings or photographs of nudes focus on the movements of bodies, their light and shadow conditions under natural light which stress their plasticity and their proportions. The main point of such art is always about the harmony of the different parts of a body with each other, the frozen movements and their grace, the play of muscles, sinews and pulsating veins underneath the skin. Life itself seems to look through the surface of the skin. Since the eras of ancient Greece and Rome and all the following epochs of art, a fascination towards harmonic bodies seems unbroken. Especially in the area of nude photography, the focus concentrates on light and shadow of the bodies reaching therefore, sculptural dignity. Black and white photography fits much more for those aims than colour photography.
Marcus Sprigens has chosen a historical nude photograph as incitation for his painting showing a female torso or maybe a real body just acting like a torso. Normally a torso means a sculpture without arms, legs and head. From ancient times, especially from Greece and Rome, many of such torsi are delivered. But their rudimentary forms do not signify an aesthetic decision by their sculptors. On the contrary, the originally intact artworks were partly destroyed during wars, violence or by corrosion and wear and tear during the following epochs. Firstly the Renaissance and then, mainly the 18th century, defined fragmentary torsi as a type of aesthetically autonomous works of art and created such torsi on purpose. The French sculptor Auguste Rodin propagated in the 19th century those sculptures as independent three dimensional forms with special aesthetic values and rules. In doing this he provokes a real boom of torsi. Following his ideas sculptors like Wilhelm Lehmbruck or Georg Kiolbe and then Henry Moore, Gustav Seitz, Alfred Hrdlicka and Marino Marini have created torsi. But also present day trash art by e.g. Bruno Bruni, Paul Wunderlich or Jagna Weber have used such forms and have made them a la mode.
The artist refers in that way to one of many delivered female torsi figures of the Hellenistic epoch as incitation. Nevertheless there exists even more male torsi, as classical sculptures, a fact allowing one to draw conclusions as to the popularity of male bodies in Greek society. Possibly the artist was attracted by the cut-out character of the figure. In that way, he positions his figure straight in the format of the used canvas: her extremities seem to be cut away. But due to those cuts in general the three dimensional characteristics of a torso are hardly there. The painting much more looks like an intact, complete sculpture with extremities which are not visible but existing. Especially on the position of the shoulder indices, where the arms of the woman are raised above her head. This is normally always a sign and a symbol for devotion and ecstasy.
This becomes evident if we look at the photographic reference which shows the lost arms and head. The woman shown has a typical grain size and light development which probably date this image back to 1900-1910. I assume that this photography was taken by the famous Italian archive Fratelli Alinari, which is indeed the oldest still existing photographic firm of the world, founding as early as 1852 in Florence. Still their headquarters is in this town. Until today this archive has produced around five and a half million artwork images. Around twenty other big international archives also cooperate in using their pictures, again another 45 million photographic images.
Marcus Sprigens' aim was to transfer the mood of these special nostalgic photographical aesthetics into the medium of a painting. The artist therefore translates the full corporeal plasticity of the sculpture into a painterly soft aesthetic which looks a little like a classical sfumato where all contours, almost romantically become smooth. One may remember wordings like, “In the shadow of blossoming young girls"” in the mood of Marcel Proust, Novalis, Friedrich Hölderlin or Rainer Maria Rilke.
Sprigens has used a restricted variety of colours for this painting: only potash blue, grey and white in sensitive graduations. These coolish colours in a more mechanical than creatural mood, in a way create a lively but nevertheless machine-like touch. An artificial atmosphere of neon light, so to say a second nature with which the cool light of urban catacombs has replaced the warm, sunny and primordial first nature light. Therefore, the artist shows us a filtered situation. The artificiality is as cold as attractive, simultaneously voyeuristic and discrete. In that respect, nakedness becomes a kind of clothing.
In a technical way this blue based painting has bright areas as well as hollowed shadows. Firstly adding a glaze of purified linseed oil with the colours blue and umbra, which have been commonly used since 1650. The artist then sprays an alcoholic nebula on the painting so that the colour body becomes bubbly and fluffy. In that way this artwork oscillates between opaque and translucent colour impressions from tonal valuing in a Grisaille fashion. Finally a light glaze follows and then lucent gloss varnish.
But torsi always have a psychological ambivalence because on the one hand they activate feelings of loss, hurt and transitoriness, but on the other hand they also activate concentrations on the trunk itself as the centre of the body. It is obvious that this also relates to sexual obsessions. Furthermore an incomplete body provokes in the overall context of the present, the optimisation of all our socialisation towards perfection, the imagination of completion and perfection, as if an architectural ruin. Maybe these ruinous, gone by characters are able to develop a special attraction of morbidity, an attraction to sinisterness and to memento mori. In that way the fascination towards torsi starts at the epoch of Manierism and later on were attracted by the nostalgic classicism of Johann Joachim Winkelmann. Having this in mind one can say that in each torso different aesthetic axioms and fields of meaning are overlapped: fragmentariness, the concept of pars pro toto, unfinishedness, the morbidezza and the patina as well as the handicapped, hurt and restricted bodies in associations with disabled and damaged bodies. Because the torsi are more disabled and damaged than their viewers, they may have the possibility to conciliate us with our own deficiency.
The torso painting of Marcus Sprigens looks nevertheless like an almost brutal cut-out of a formerly larger painting, which has neither space nor possibilities to show the normally irregular intersections. This impression in this painting becomes aggressive like a precise amputation performed by a surgeon. But simultaneously the female body has an erotic attractiveness. This ambiguity makes this artwork exciting and thrilling. Obviously the artist's adaption of the antique reference, positions it also in the field of modern nude photography. The presence of the past, the actual attractiveness of historical beauty, an intuition and apotheosis of their momentariness and also a ritual of this transiency.
Text: Prof. Volker Fischer, Master Curator, Art Historian and Critic, Former Curator of the Museum of Artificial Art (MAK) Frankfurt, Former Director of the Museum of Architecture (DAM) Frankfurt, Honorary Professor of the Academy of Art and Design, Offenbach am Main/Frankfurt.