Ivan Alifan – The three graces (2016)
This does several things very well.
Although much of oil painting art historically centers on mythology (Greek and Roman or Xtian), most renowned oil painters were decidedly secular humanist in nature.
The tropes of mythology and religion were widely legible, there was built in interest (due to the universality of public familiarity) and generally if someone had money to hire an up and coming painter, depending upon their particular bent–mythology or religion could be counted on as a source of inspiration.
There was also certain visual coding associated with either. Whether it was the saints or a bible story or an incident from the Illiad, there were interesting technical considerations about staging, technique, etc.
But there was also the way many artist filtered the making of their work through their sexuality. I’m thinking here mainly of Leonardo and Michelangelo, but I’m pretty sure you can follow the trajectory of painting while illuminating this tendency.
What I find clever about this is the way that it–instead of making the myth/religion its pretext, it places its interest in the sexual front and center.
However, in doing this, it’s accomplishing a clever sleight of hand. Because if you know, The Graces were Aglaea (Beauty), Euthymia (Grace) & Thalia (Good Cheer/Festivity).
The first bit about this is to note that all three were Zeus’ daughters and therefore this isn’t just a lesbian menage a trois–it’s incestuous to boot–something you aren’t going to know unless you understand the mythological context.
It’s interesting to play attribute the correct name to the correct figure. My best guess is right-to-left: Aglaea (beauty is inherently untouchable), Euthymia is straddling Aglaea having her clitoris sucked on by Thalia–grace being a singular experience and good cheer requiring both being merry and making merry.
But what I think I like the most is that this is staged to titillate the voyeuristic viewer, but the angle is such as to thwart any sort of expectation that this scene was staged specifically for the so-called male gaze.