I am an artist from Spiddal living in Westport and last year I created a series of works titled 'Neon Classical'. It involved Penneys’ underwear, Irish society’s no.1 choice in knickers and padded bras.
In most stores, female customers bear no resemblance to the mannequins that surround them. I felt a curvier classical model would show off the neon underwear to its fullest glory and show us how badly the colour and shape of the garments really look on real bodies.
So I hunted down the more Celtic looking of famous Rubenesque beauties in all their pinkish, pasty, blemished, goose pimpled and blueish skin hue and painted them wearing the underwear from the shop.
The paintings made their debut at a health cafe in Co Mayo. This was interesting as the majority of their customers were hellbent on their daily intake of green 'no fun' juice and more conscious of how many calories a carrot contained. They felt that the paintings were lovely but why did I opt to paint obese models?
By the time I picked my jaw up off the ground I found some of the people around me to be quite disillusioned. These same classical beauties were the same models that the greatest scholars, writers, philosophers and composers fantasised about. The great minds lads!
How blinded are we by tan tinted glasses and photo-shop fraud?
Last week I was given the opportunity to exhibit this same series in a restaurant in Galway city centre. They were there only a few days when unfortunately a customer objected, finding them offensive to the children who accompanied her. The paintings were taken down.
Isn't it funny to think how the models that I've taken from 400-year-old paintings could in this day and age be considered shocking? Can we no longer handle the realities of the female body? Or are we offended by the sight of our standard underwear on a real woman's figure and not on a mannequin?
The thing is, I've been to restaurants where slinky tanned nudes drape along the walls on reclining couches with long tipped filtered cigarettes hanging from their mouths, but is that morally okay?
Is it offensive to children? Is that forgivable and a classically-shaped pasty-skinned real woman in Penneys underwear not? And are children not encouraged to visit National Galleries where these very same models hang from the walls and are revered? And guess what? -They are completely naked there!!
Before the un-hanging of my paintings, I dreamt of the nights when they would entertain the customers at the restaurant.
I wished that they would make the female customers feel more at ease with their bodies- 'Ah sure Micheal, I might as well have a dessert, look at your wan up on the wall like!'
I had also hoped that the paintings would encourage the men to see women in a more realistic way and enjoy them for what they are.
I longed for the paintings to guide them all away from the fake trashy nonsense that surrounds our internets, TVs, magazines and our minds everyday.
If you have any suggestions as to where this collection of paintings could find a good home then please let me know.
I fear they may have to be stripped back down to their original naked state again and confined to the 'no flash' and hushed walls of the National Museum and galleries. — www.ruthcaddenartworks.com