Whitehot Magazine

Online Exclusive: Daniel Maidman Muses: Part 1. Manou

Daniel Maidman, Manou’s Pressing Hand, pencil on paper, 15”x11”, 2018

Daniel Maidman
Apr 25th – May 31st
Online Exclusive

By JON SOARD, May 2018

     Twenty-first Century Figurative drawing is quickly being recognized as a specific period in art. It is generally perceived to be a reaction to over-intellectualized visuals and a reconnection of contemporary culture to corporeal meaning. Muses: Part 1, Manou, at Jenn Singer Gallery, is an example, a solo virtual exhibition[1] of new drawings by Brooklyn-based artist and widely published author Daniel Maidman, best known for his figurative works on paper. The actual artwork is also accessible by appointment and worth the trouble. At first glance, the convenience of a virtual “gallery” format is a pristine view of immaculately rendered human forms. The drawings are graphite and white pencil rendered on fine paper such as B.F.K. Reeves, tan, or dark, gunmetal gray. Unfortunately, they are organized and presented against a stark white background so bright that the nuance and subtleties of these delicate drawings are like trying to recognize a familiar face backlit by the sun. One longs for ambient light or a fill-flash.

       The faithful depiction of skin, posture, and consistency from one drawing to the next tells us that it is one unique individual that we learn to be Manou, a dancer living in New York. “Muse” obviously refers to the artist’s inspiration, returning repeatedly to the same source, the original from which all others are based. With devotion, the original becomes iconic, scrutinized, deliberated; worshiped. The single name, however, is more likely out of respect for privacy more than the honorific single-name identity like Beyoncé, Bono, or Eminem.  

       In the West, our collective consciousness founded on Semitism (in both Judaic and Islamic forms) is furthered by a Judeo-Christian preoccupation with our tangible existence stressing the consequences of individuality - ownership of our own body, a temple. Periods of religious puritanism have forbidden any figurative depiction, and considered the human body the epitome of sin, shame, and frailty – equivalent to idolatry. Eventually, the stigma relented to the notion of permissible religious images in which the human form may be portrayed as a representation or symbol of an object of worship with a clear distinction that to worship the object, itself, was a misappropriation of devotion. The human body remained a source of moral debate. Even our contemporary arbiter of public morality, FaceBook[2], has an aversion to nudity which is equated with sex, violence, and hate. [3] Current U.S. culture amplifies this internalized subconscious anxiety concerning the human body. Body dysmorphia and self-deprivation to achieve iconic status are manifestations of our preoccupation with the iconic, worshiping the physical, objectified, as opposed to celebration of the body, itself.

Daniel Maidman, Manou, Dynamic Crouch, pencil on paper, 15”x11”, 2018

       Maidman has chosen the iconic form of a trained dancer as his muse. His abilities and unswerving representationalism, bordering or hyper-realism, are admirable. His craft and powers of observation are impeccable. We are left to wonder, however, if his motivation is altruistic as a celebration of humanism or a slightly prurient fascination with femininity. I think neither. Lucien Freud, for example, embodied a notion from the Renaissance thought, that has been attributed to Leonardo da Vinci: "Every artist paints himself."[4] This thought holds true for Maidman’s drawings, but obviously not in the literal sense. The most telling insight into the artist’s identification with his model is in the sense of touch, oddly enough. Over-intellectualism has taken us away from the physical in so many ways in the last century. Our lives are centered around thought to such a degree that the field of psychotherapy has prospered around our need to de-intellectualize and reconnect with the evocation and suppression of feelings. It is not lost on us that this is a virtual exhibition, mounted and distributed however briefly on the world-wide-web, the quintessential medium of the cerebrum. The strength of these drawings lies in their ability to transcend the virtual, flatness of the screen, blaring whiteness from every pixel and arriving with a sense of touch, or rather the memory of touch. The persistence of memory is palpable, skin, capable of being deformed continuously in any direction without rupture. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the various versions of Manou’s hands. As she touches we touch. When she grasps her own flesh, we feel the texture and the slight resistance of relaxed muscle beneath extra subdermal fat, no matter how little body fat this female dancer may have. We feel what she felt. We grasp our own skin.

Daniel Maidman, Manou’s Hands, pencil on paper, 15”x 11”, 2018

       Though there are obvious similarities to, Edward Weston’s photographs of reality, particularly the sterile formal qualities in his series of peppers, Maidman has drawn in his own style, self-aware in a sort of fecund formalism, that represents rather than titillates. The body is being reclaimed. Some early Twenty-First Century artists have chosen the intimacy of drawing as their medium of choice for the human figure. The messages and meaning are not grandiose, for the most part. The intimacy of drawings has been largely overlooked by art historians until the last century, when the power of immediacy, subtlety, and nuance in the medium was recognized and collected, e.g., Morgan Library, NYC. Drawings can convey any feeling, but observations suggest that, considered to be secondary efforts in importance and therefore receiving less scrutiny, drawings are often a source of unselfconscious optimism for artists. This stands in direct contrast to post-war artists like Giacometti or Francis Bacon, described by Andrew Brighton, "betrayed by science, bereft of religion, deserted by the pleasant imaginings of humanism against the blind fate. It was closing time in the gardens of the West and an artist would be judged only by the resonance of his solitude or the quality of his despair."[5] Bacon's bodies also impress people as "fugitive" as well as expressing "exhilarated despair," masochistic sexuality and violence.[6] I suggest that Maidman’s exhibit at Jenn Singer Gallery, if not an optimistic outlook based in humanism, is certainly a recouching of Descarte’s certainty of the existence of subjectivity: I feel therefore I am. WM

[5] Andrew Brighton, Francis Bacon (London: Tate Gallery Publishing Ltd, 2001), p.9.

[6] Nick Millet, "The Fugitive Body: Bacon's Fistula," in Andrew Benjamin, ed., Journal of Philosophy and the Visual Arts: The Body (London: The Academy Group, 1993), pp.40-51.


Jon Soard

Jon Soard is a producing artist with a lengthy exhibition record and prominent placement portfolio. He is currently investigating art as a therapeutic tool and writes on the topics of art and psychology.

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