How this drawing needs to be well hung as it were

I have a charcoal drawing which has caused considerable consternation over the years and when I bought it, the person with whom I was living said, ‘This cannot hang in the sitting room’. As a consequence it was banished to the bedroom. What on earth could have been so political or problematic about such a drawing? The reason for its controversy? It is  a male nude.

Occasionally I conduct a rehang in my house (sounds pretentious but I just like to change things around!) and he comes to lie with me in my own sitting room; he spent years in my study and now drapes himself  right over the bed. He is a languid figure, drawn in charcoal by the artist Jacqueline Morreau. The figure is lying on a sofa with his long legs stretching up and over the furniture and his head is thrown back slightly. His proportions are beautiful and he has a youthful shape to his hips, stomach and chest. Then of course there is the matter of his genitals which are, of course on full display. I have looked at his penis for the last twenty seven years and I never tire of it, small and resting and totally at ease as it is.

Men have a profound dislike of this picture and will make exhortations such as, ‘Oh, that is horrible.’ or ’Why on earth would you want that on your wall?’ Why indeed? Having a post graduate qualification in art history (perhaps histories is more appropriate in this context) I have studied the female nude, have written about the subjugation and possessive aspects of such art works.  I have written dissertations on Manet’s Olympia and the challenge to the male gaze and it makes a change to see a male nude and anyway, I like my man’s abandon, his lack of power, resting as he is across the sofa.

I also like the fact the arguments have developed and now books debate how white, heterosexual, predominantly middle class men have served as the blueprint for notions of masculine beauty. Nowadays there are different connections to be made between the ideas of beauty that now appear to be converging from many different perspectives or masculinities. These studies seek to denaturalize conventional standards by exploring the connections between beauty and a much broader spectrum of masculinities. So my drawing belongs to history really, the 1980s to be more specific.

What I find so interesting about this drawing is that it offers a female representation of masculinity or male beauty, if you like. We see the male through the female gaze just as Sam Taylor-Wood’s video of David Beckham sleeping did back in 2004 at the National Portrait Gallery www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0UEuuYuNDo. Women lay on the floor in the gallery as if they were sleeping next to Beckham, men would walk into the darkened space, make derisive, yet uncomfortable comments and quickly exit. I sat and watched the whole screening and was finally dragged away by a friend!

My man never says anything, which is probably a good thing. He is simply a well-executed charcoal sketch by the feminist artist Morreau and he and I will never be parted. I leave the last words to Simone de Beauvoir.

‘The asymmetry of the categories – male and female – is made manifest in the unilateral form of sexual myths. We sometimes say ‘the sex’ to designate women; she is the flesh, its delights and dangers. The truth that for women, man is sex and carnality has never been proclaimed because there is no one to proclaim it. Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth.’

 Simone de Beauvoir: The Second Sex (1949)

That’s probably why men don’t like him

(Simone de Beauvoir; ‘The Second Sex’ (1949) Picador, 1988 p.175)

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