ArtEroticaExhibition, Cork St
Don’t loiter, girl! Do you think I shall lose appetite for the meal if you are so long about serving it? No; I shall grow hungrier, more ravenous with each moment, more cruel... Run to me, run! I have a place prepared for your exquisite corpse in my display of flesh!
This extract from The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter is on display by the painting.
The Bloody Chamber is based on the story of Bluebeard, a wealthy-beyond-the –dreams- of–avarice French nobleman who married a 17 year old girl, a talented pianist, and whisked her off to his remote castle. There she discovers his passion for sadistic pornography and his pleasure at her humiliation and pain. He sets up a trap which leads to her discovery of a chamber containing the bodies of his previous wives. In Carter’s version, narrated by the child bride herself, before the Marquis can add her to his collection of corpses she is rescued. A blind piano tuner seen on the right of the picture plays his part but it is her magnificent feisty mother who, arriving on horseback, does not hesitate to ‘put a single irreproachable bullet through the Marquis’s head’.
Traditional fairy tales have been described as the science fiction of the past. Certainly the novelist and short story writer Angela Carter used them to explore how things might be different. Her unforgettable rich gothic imagery draws from ‘subterranean areas behind everyday experience’, which Jones depicts so exquisitely in her arresting picture.
Karen Jones captures the essence of this horrific tale. The Marquis stands with a strong grip upon his weapon. The unnamed heroine carries the ring of keys which, by unlocking the bloody chamber, awakens her to the peril she is in. She wears a collar like a dog - albeit one made of blood-red rubies - ‘coiled like a snake about to strike’. And what about those lilies? They are everywhere. When the Marquis proposes, 'he seemed to me like a lily...possessed of that strange ominous calm of a sentient vegetable, like one of those cobra-headed, funereal lilies whose white sheaths are curled out of a flesh as thick and tensely yielding to the touch as vellum’. When falling asleep the last thing she remembers is ‘a tall jar of lilies beside the bed , how the thick glass distorted their fat stems so they looked like arms, dismembered arms, drifting drowned in greenish water’.
I’m reminded of American Gothic, an oil painting by Grant Wood. Is it a neat inversion of Jones’ picture? (It's one of the top three paintings that every American is said to know. The others are Mona Lisa and Whistler’s Mother). Both couples stand to attention in period dress. Here the man on the right is not lusting after the woman. He's her father, gripping a rigid pitchfork, a weapon useful for ‘defending the virtue of his not very alluring daughter’ (the artist’s sister), according to the art critic Robert Hughes. The pitchfork, which is so central to the painting, is usually ‘Satan’s archetypal tool for tossing souls into eternal fire, but here it becomes the weapon against Satan’. Opinion is divided as to whether Grant is underlining or undermining the values of his Iowan ancestry. Is he shyly poking fun at intolerance, rigidity and moral vigilance – or upholding traditional values?
No such ambiguity exists in Karen Jones’ painting (or Angela Carter’s story. The Bloody Chamber - a reference to the womb? – is visceral, chilling, intriguing. Not the sort of image you would easily forget.
The EroticaArt2012 exhibition, in which it is displayed, has two aims: to showcase the work of emerging and established artists and to raise funds for FPA, a sexual health charity. Its aims are to see fewer unwanted pregnancies in the UK, lower rates of sexual infection and for parents and children to be more able to talk about growing up.