Colour Me Dead

Art, Sex & Psychos

With research assistance from the George Mora Fellowship & Culture France, 2010;
Art Gallery of New South Wales Paris Studio residency, 2012;
& Cité internationale des Artes, Paris studio residency, 2016.
First presented as slide lectures for Parallel Collisions - 12th Adelaide Biennale of Australian Art, Adelaide, 2011;
& for the Colour Me Dead exhibition - Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, 2013
Meir Zarchi - I Spit On Your Grave (1978); John Atkins Grimshaw - The Lady Of Shalott (1875)


To the casual viewer, all artists are 'mad' to some degree. This is a view still propagated by populist representations and discussions of artists and the kind of things they do and produce. To art theoreticians, critics and historians, that same 'madness' is a railroaded synonym for passion, expression, individuality, compulsion. The degree of madness, craziness, stupidity or wackiness of artists will rise or fall depending on which perspective is applied to their endeavours. Since the mid-20th century and its dominance of modernist thought in art, the lines have become blurred between generalist denigrations of artistic radicalism and elitist promotion of artistic identities. Now, many artists invoke or feign madness through ironic theatricality or manipulative stunts; both mass media and serious critics extol tales of clinical and tragic madness in artists; historians and amateurs uncover original visionaries in 'outsider' artists otherwise legally declared insane; and all sorts of aberrant behaviour are posited as rebellious expressions of the creative Self. All in all, there seems to be a magnetic pull between artistic 'rule-breaking' and societal 'law-breaking'.

But such clichés and stereotypes divert our attention from precisely how artists who break from conventions in artistic norm mirror non-artists who similarly break from conventions in social behaviour. The raging lunatic, the psychotic murderer, the serial rapist, the pornography addict, even the nominal sufferer of autism, Jabberers or obsessive-compulsive behaviour - all these figures find their actions symbolically played out by artists from across the last three centuries. Sometimes artists seem to forecast states and syndromes of psychological disorder; other times they appear to mimic or quote such conditions. Despite this chicken-or-egg situation, clear trajectories can be drawn. From Pablo Picasso’s grotesque shapes to Jackson Pollock’s splattered landscapes to Andy Warhol’s mortician’s gaze to Hermann Nitsch’s orgiastic rituals to Yves Klein’s exploitative anthropometries, modern artists have flirted with violent depictions of bodily configuration. They collectively pulp and disfigure the idealistic and naturalistic nude, and in place present an aggressive deconstruction of the body. By increasingly spotlighting the nude as the focus for these actions, they have intensified unsettling fusions of sex and violence in their image-making. In doing so, they have vicariously acted out a type of violence that typifies the modernist ethos, wherein human life is abstracted into a pure bodily state.

Colour Me Dead proposes to trace a formal history and popular mythology of ‘the mad artist’ by seeking out the origins and developments which led to this modernist crisis of the body and its graphic depiction. It queries what it means for an artist to obsessively perform such symbolic acts upon the human body. And it equally queries what it means for a society to frame these contentious images with ideologies of beauty, truth and nature. Crucially, Colour Me Dead ponders how the corporal luminosity of a Jean Leon Gérome ingenue, the diffuse glow of a Eduard Degas nubile, or the voluptuous curve of a Henry Moore nude have been accepted to the extent that the psycho-sexual ramifications of their fleshy portrayals have been neutralised. In doing so, Colour Me Dead seeks to evaluate Modernist destructive drives as extensions of impulses born by Romantic obsessions with corporeal desire, bodily possession and sexual transcendence. Viewed through the gradual violence accorded the depiction of the nude - from the slow boil of Romanticism through to the heated explosion of Modernism - many of art history's icons of unbridled eros can be re-classified as pathologically rapacious and symptomatic of sexually explosive schisms within the Self.

It is in this hall of mirrors built of blood splattered paintings, unimaginable sex crimes and unstoppable movie psychos that art, sex and psychos combine and reconstruct each other. Colour Me Dead places the viewer dead centre as witness to the pathological conditions which govern a broad range of artistic approaches to imaging the muse, the nude and the artist.


  • Outline

    Research breakdown & critical focus of the book

  • Introduction

    The Terrorizing Visage

    How the muse is framed, frozen, fixed, fermented

  • Chapter I

    The Illuminated Nymph

    Completed chapter

    How the body is spotlit, highlighted, centralised, telescoped
    Artists: Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, Jean Leon Gerôme, John Simons, Edward John Poynter, Arnold Böcklin, John Henry Fuseli, Gabriel von Max, J.H. Hasselhorst, Richard Tennant Cooper, J.M.W. Turner, John Atkinson Grimshaw, Luis Ricardo Falero, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, John Rheinhard Weguelin, Henri Gervex, Fritz Steinmetz-Noris, Jean-Jules Antoine, Raoul Duffy, Victor Brauner, Balthus

  • Chapter II

    The Lady In The Lake

    Completed chapter

    How the muse titlates, lures, entraps, haunts
    Artists: (Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, Gustave Courbet, Francesco Hayez, Alexandre Cabanel, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, John Collier, John Everett Millais, John Atkinson Grimshaw, Edward Burne-Jones, John William Waterhouse, Knut Ekwall, Edward John Poynter, Arnold Böcklin, Nils Blommér, Francis Danby, Hans Makart, Carlos Schwabe, Franz von Stuck, Alfred Kubin, Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, Germaine Richier

  • Chapter III

    The Morbid Forest

    Completed chapter

    Where the body is left for dead, to be exposed, to decompose, to be discovered
    Artists: Caspar David Freidrich, Arnold Böcklin, Nils Blommér, Leon Frederic, John Atkinson Grimshaw, Maximilian Lenz, Frederick McCubbin, John William Waterhouse, Albert Beck Wenzell, Odilon Redon, Hans Arp, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Ana Mendieta, Georg Baselitz, Paul McCarthy, Anne Geddes, Spencer Tunick, Chiho Aoshima, Are Mokkelbost

  • Chapter IV

    The Sexualised Chimera

    Completed chapter

    How the body is transmogrified, mutated, fused, collaged
    Artists: Arnold Böcklin, Edward Burne-Jones, Jean Delville, Fernand Khnopff, Gustav Klimt, Franz von Stuck, Boleslas Biegas, Balthus, Rene Magritte, Andre Masson, Victor Brauner, Toyen, Ed Roth, H. R. Giger, Hajime Sorayama, Jake and Dinos Chapman

  • Chapter V

    The Hungry Vagina

    Completed chapter

    How the body threatens, devastates, dessicates, devours
    Artists: Jean Baptiste Greuze, Jean Antoine Houdon, Henry Singleton, Frederick Sandys, John Collier, Pierre Bonnard, Herbert James Draper, Gustave Courbet, Alfred Kubin, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Otto Dix, André Masson, Roberto Matta, Hans Belmer, Lee Bontecou, Niki de Saint Phalle, Tom Wesselmann, Magdelena Abakanowicz, Valie Export

  • Chapter VI

    The Prostrate Christ

    Completed chapter

    How the body is laid out, kept flat, left lying, made horizontal
    Artists: Andrea Mantegna, Hans Holbein, Francisco De Zurbaran, Leon Frederick, Arnold Böcklin, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, William Etty, Luigi Gonzaga Giuditti, Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, John William Waterhouse, Leighton Frederick, Käthe Kollwitz, Francis Bacon, Balthus, Frida Kahlo, Hermann Nitsch, Lucien Freud, Gerhard Richter

  • Chapter VII

    The Living Doll

    Completed chapter

    How the body is assembled, operated, utilised, staged
    Artists: Franocis Boucher, John Gottfried Schadow, John Gibson, Hans Makart, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Jean Leon Gerôme, Louis-Ernest Barrias, Lovis Corinth, Franz von Stuck, Jimonez Aranda, Hans Belmer, Gil Elvgren, Allen Jones, George Segal, John de Andrea, Duane Hanson, Peter Berlin, Cindy Sherman, Tom Wesselmann, Hajime Sorayama

  • Chapter VIII

    The Disfigured Nude

    Completed chapter

    How the body is repositioned, contorted, reshaped, reconstituted
    Artists: Bartholomeus Spranger, Charles Bell, Théodore Géricault, Auguste Rodin, Georges Daoud Corm, Marcel Duchamp, Umberto Boccioni, Otto Dix, Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Rudolph Schlichter, Andre Kertesz, Dorothea Tanning, Willem de Kooning, Hans Arp, Francis Bacon, Peter Saul, Louise Bourgeois, Joel-Peter Witkin, Jenny Saville, Erwin Olaf

  • Chapter IX

    The Unavoidable Biomorph

    Completed chapter

    How the body resembles, is molded, is mimicked, distorts
    Artists: Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, Man Ray, Gaston Lachaise, Hans Bellmer, Dora Maar, Hans Arp, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Francois Lunven, Louise Bourgeois, Dorothea Tanning, Hugette Caland, Jeff Koons, Sarah Lucas, Marc Quinn, Hideaki Kawashima, Anne Geddes

  • Chapter X

    The Impotent Rage

    Completed chapter

    How the artist declares, condems, denounces, destroys
    Artists: Hans Baldung, Artemisia Gentileschi, Augustus Leopold Egg, Albert von Keller, Emmanuel Fremiet, Jan Frans DeBoever, Francis Picabia, Egon Schiele, Maria Martins, Francisco De Goya, Pablo Picasso, André Masson, Jackson Pollock, George Grosz, Yoko Ono,Otto Muehl, Vito Acconci

  • Chapter XI

    The Destructive Tool

    How the body is punctured, ruptured, penetrated, eviscerated
    Artists: Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri, Niki de Saint Phalle, Gunnar Aagaard Andersen, Carolee Scheemann, Chris Burden, Gordon Matta-Clarke, William Burroughs, Amie Dicke, Dan Havel & Dean Ruck

    Currently being written

  • Chapter XII

    The Creative Ejaculate

    How the artist expresses, projects, expels, stains
    Artists: Jackson Pollock, Cy Twombly, Hans Hartung, Hermann Nitsch, César Baldaccini, Yves Klein, Bernard Requichot, Linda Benglis, Dennis Oppenheim, Ana Mendieta, Marthe Wery

    Currently being written

  • Chapter XIII

    The Crime Scene

    Where both artist and body are documented, traced, incriminated, analysed
    Artists: Eugène Delacroix, Thomas Couture, Edgar Degas, Gustav Moreau, Alphonse Bertillon, Francis Picabia, George Grosz, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Robert Rauschenberg, Francis Bacon, George Segal, Robert Polidori, Chiharu Shiota, Karla Black

    Currently being written

  • Chapter XIV

    The Body of Evidence

    What the body becomes, proves, states, encodes
    Artists: Guido Cagnacci, Jacques-Fabien Gautier D'Agoty, Paul Richer, Auguste Clésinger, Alexandre Schoenewerk, Jules Talric, Adolph Menzel, Marcel Marien, Toyen, Andy Warhol, Yves Klein, Alina Szapocznikow, Bernard Dufour, Helmet Newton, Stelarc, Jana Sterbak, Kikki Smith, Kevin Lynch, Ron Mueck, Fernando Botero, Kepa Garraza

    Currently being written

  • Chapter XV

    The Mortician’s Mask

    How the artist, muse and body appear, imprint, contain, resemble
    Artists: Maison Tramond, Constantin Paul & Bonamy Broca, Victor Brauner, Jean Fautrier, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Joel-Peter Witkin, Marc Quinn, Walter Schels, Gunther von Hagens

    Currently being written

  • Chapter XVI

    The Inflicted Self

    How the artist maims, marks, scarifies, mutilates the body
    Artists: Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, Frida Kahlo, Basil Wolverton, Marina Abramovic, Orlan, Chris Burden, Gina Pane, Paul McCarthy, Phoebe Glockner

    Currently being written

  • Chapter XVII

    The Slippage of Sex

    How the body is gendered, differentiated, separated, socialised
    Artists: Louis Finson, Edgar Degas, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, Maria Martins, Germaine Richier, Mimi Parent, George Quaintance, Louise Bourgeois, Martha Rosler, Yasumasa Morimura, Robert Williams

    Currently being written

  • Chapter XVIII

    The Abstracted Sensation

    How the body is overcome, obliterated, dispersed, atomised
    Artists: Antonio Allegri, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Arthur Hacker, Camille Claudel, Auguste Rodin, Charles Sims, Toyen, Magda Cordell, Jean Dubuffet, Virgil Finlay, Ryohei Hase

    Currently being written

  • Conclusion

    The Disappearing Nude

    How the body is absented, denied, buried, ghosted