Modern Venus # 10




The one thing I remember about doing this painting is the zipper. I thought I could do some sort of visual shorthand. But, at some point, I realized that if I wanted the painting to work, the only thing I could do was paint each and every tooth. It was painful at first, but after I settled into it, It became sort of meditative.

Modern Venus #10 by Edward Weiss, Gouache and Acrylic on watercolor paper, 16″ X 22”, 1999 
To see a portfolio  from the series click here.

MODERN VENUS — A CONTEXT, with illustrations by everyone from Michelangelo to Tom of Finland (and myself)

For those unfamiliar with the art world, an artist’s statement is meant to provide a context for a series of work, or even a career. It’s like the plot of a A Place in the Sun (the film version of An American Tragedy), where the protagonist’s guilt is decided by what was in his heart, when his pregnant ex-girlfriend went into the lake.  If you’re doing a painting for one reason, it’s  a different painting than if the exact same image is created for a different reason. Unfortunately for me, I’ve never really bought into that. In fact, I’ve always felt that having to produce such statements were a necessary evil.

But I just realized what fun I could have with a piece I did called MODERN VENUS — A CONTEXT, if I  appropriated images from the web, and pasted in pictures from the 25 thousands years of art I was talking about.   So here it is, with illustrations by everyone from Michelangelo to Tom of Finland.

MODERN VENUS — A CONTEXT   by Edward Weiss

The most persistent theme in the history of Western (and other) art is the iconic depiction of the human body — it’s beauty and sexuality.

In ancient civilizations, such icons frequently were representations of gods. The world’s oldest existing sculpture — the Venus of Willendorf VenusofWillendorf 24000BCand perhaps its most famous — the Venus de Milo, are two examples.


Looking back from the 21st century, it’s tempting to see the deification of such transparently human forms as simply artists’ justifications for a libidinous desires to portray naked babes and beefcake. But I think the preponderance of gods and goddesses among the icons is an expression of the fact that the human form can move us in ways that are not totally explicable. Deifying these bodies is a way of grappling with this mystery.

In the Middle Ages,  (which followed the classical period), the rise of monotheism in the form of a patriarchal God, combined with the repressive spirit of the times, to limit such grappling. Though subjects like vanity did provide a vehicle for depicting a naked woman staring at a mirror, the occasional nude from this period is as likely to evoke a plucked chicken, as an object of worship.VanityWith the Renaissance however, a spirit of rapture returned to depictions of the human body. Roman Gods once again flourished as vehicles for glorification of the nude form. And with increasing frequency, mere mortals were also depicted with iconic beauty and sexuality. Though typically these mortals also had some sort of religious or mythological context, like Michelangelo’s David, or Titian’s Bacchanal of The Andrians. 

DavidbacchanaltitianBy the late nineteenth-century, the ever-popular themes of religion and myth had diverged from glorification of the body. So much so that leading practitioners of these genres like the Pre-Raphaelites, Gustave Moreau, Puvis de Chavannes, etc., seemed to revel in painting ascetic (though lovely) figures.


This context was so established that realist painters like Courbet and Manet invoked outrage for paintings of robust contemporary women, (sometimes also with mythological titles) who might in current vernacular, be described as “hotties.” Ironically however, their paintings now seem to reflect the spirit of ancient precedents better than the more delicate work of the 19th century allegorical kitschmeisters they were rebelling against.

women with parrot

Despite a continuing push towards abstraction, Modernists who followed in the wake of Manet – Modigliani, Amedeo Modigliani - Seated NudePicasso, Matisse (the Odalisque series) and numerous others – continued to explore the iconography of the body until the ascendancy of the abstract expressionism of the New York School.

Of this group, only Willem de Kooning would attempt to reconcile concrete body iconography with near total abstraction in his remarkable Woman, and Marilyn, paintings. Woman 1

Paradoxically, at the same time, representational artists like Freud and Pearlstein seemed bent on demystifying the naked body by portraying it as mundane or even repulsive.


Not surprisingly, this changed when Pop Art took center stage. Its focus on the iconography of popular art included much attention to the body. Some artists, like Tom Wesselman and Mel Ramos, even made this their primary or exclusive focus.Wesselman2

But they were hard put to surpass their source material, the classic pin-up art of the mid-century. The technically adept artists working in this genre (Gil Elvgren, Joyce Ballantyne and Peter Driben, etc.) often-depicted scenes that seemed to have sprung straight from a semiotician’s fever dream.

Joyce Ballantine







Perhaps the most mind-blowing example of this is the unforgettable ” “panties-falling-down” series by Art Frahm, and Jay Scott Pike that depicted various scenes of a fully clothed young woman who (while performing a mundane task, like carrying home the groceries) suddenly experiences a loss of elasticity that sends her underwear to her ankles. Thus setting off a reaction among passers-by that is the seismic equivalent of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.

jay Scott pike

Though sexually iconic depictions have continued unfettered in popular culture to this day, their presence in the gallery world has had a more torturous path. Undoubtedly, the inundation and increasing banality of body imagery towards the end of the 20th century (Baywatch, Pussycat Dolls  etc.) in pop culture has had a negative effect, as have questions about the validity of such imagery, specifically the notion that objectification is violence against women.

The erroneousness of this widely accepted concept is revealed in the fact that its original proponents, Dworkin and MacKinnon included gay male eroticism in their thesis. But the jawdropping unreality of a concept that would suggest that depictions of two guys boinking (or artwork that objectifies male bodies like Tom of FinlandTom_of_Finland or Michelangelo) is somehow violence
against women – has not limited its influence.

The 25,000-year history of body iconography in art is also a deterrent to new work along these line, as it flys in the face of the requisite conceptual newness that is the gallery artist’s stock in trade.

And indeed, one does need a touch of hubris to mine this well-worn vein in search of some remaining gold. But on the other hand, it’s an interesting place to dig around in. When I started the Modern Venus series, my goal was to combine a modernist abstract compositional sense with the fervent representationalism of classic pin-up art. But I wanted to make a break from the pin-up and other iconic art in one sense. Part of this tradition has idealized the figure by rearranging it in some sense – exaggerating or streamlining certain proportions. I deliberately haven’t done this because I wanted to capture the way the eye seeks out the superhuman in the human. Rather than idealize the body, I wanted to reflect the powerful mystique that lurks in the commonplace.

So I set some ground rules for myself. No intentional anatomical distortion whatsoever. No depictions of surgical enhancements (i.e. silicone). And no violating the laws of physical reality, even with the invented stuff – no blue-skinned people or impossible perspectives, for instance.

I also tried to avoid any imagery that would directly indicate some kind of situation taking place outside of the given one – that there is a posed figure in the painting.

Everything else was fair game. I’ve added clothing to figures that was not worn by the original 14models; and invented furniture for compositional purposes. Colors have nothing to do with the original sources and rendering is (I hope) heightened. My goal was not realism, but that element of unreality that is available to the naked eye.



  Modern Venus #14, by Edward Weiss, Gouache and Acrylic 22″ X 30,” circa 2002 
To see a portfolio  from the series click here.


Previous works in order of appearance, were:

The Venus of Willendorf, sculptor unknown, circa 24,000 and 22,000 BC

The Venus de Milo, circa 130 – 100 BC

Vanity, part of a triptych by Hans Memling, 1465

David by Michelangelo, circa 1501-1504

Bacchanal of The Andrians, by Titian. circa 1523–1526

The River by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, 1864

Woman with a Parrot by Gustave Courbet, 1866
Seated  Nude by Amedeo Modigliani, 1917
Woman 1 by Willem de Kooning, Circa 1950-1952
Naked Man, Back View, by Lucien Freud, Circa 1991–92
Great American Nude NO. 68 by Tom Wesselman, 1965
Self Portrait by Joyce Ballantyne, circa 1950s

Title unknown (from the “Panties-Falling-Down”  series) by Jay Scott Pike, circa late 1950s -early 1960s

Title unknown by Tom of Finland, circa 1960s

Modern Venus # 20

Modern Venus #20 by Edward Weiss, Gouache and Acrylic 22″ X30”, 1999, all rights reserved

As I said in yesterday’s post ,  the Portrait of Coco and Josephine was a continuation of the way I was painting Modern Venus series. So here’s  Modern Venus # 20. And if you want to compare the two it you can click here.

The Most Reviled Form of Art

coco and Josephine3Smaller

Portrait of Coco and Josephine, gouache and acrylic on watercolor paper, 16″ X 20″

There’s probably no more reviled form of art than the pet portrait. I’m not sure why, exactly. Even velvet Elvis paintings have a certain amount of kitsch cache. You never really know what will be looked down on in the art world. I worked as a drawing class model for awhile and there’s a lot of stigma in that too. Sometimes, the same people that are drawing you, are also looking down on you. Even though the nude is an honored tradition in art, there’s an assumption that somebody who takes their clothes off for money must have some kind of problem. Or, if not, they are probably trying to create one. In reality, the opposite is true when you’re working for a drawing class. Figure modeling is one long effort to prevent problems: in your back, your neck, your knees, or whatever.

I did the above portrait of Coco and Josephine for Kate Westray, a friend who gave me a set of flat files. Those are the kind of cabinets made for large works of paper (drawings, watercolors, etc.). It wasn’t a trade. She just offered to give me the flat files and I wanted to do something in return. Flat files are expensive. Even if you want to get rid of them, they’re worth quite a few bucks second hand. So I wanted to repay what I felt was a great act of generosity. I was doing the Modern Venus paintings at the time, but I didn’t offer her one of those, as I had a feeling  (speaking of stigma) that the Venus’s weren’t the sort of thing that she would want to hang on the wall. As it turned out, neither was my portrait of Coco and Josephine. Although Kate said she liked it, she ended up giving it back to me.

Even though it does belong to most despised form of art (as I mentioned), I like it too, though I admit it’s an odd creation. I set about to do the painting exactly the same way I approached  my Venus’s — with solid blocks of intense pin-up color, composed  in the manner of  modernist abstraction. But being a portrait, I had to include their faces. Faces (at least to me) remove the ambiguity between abstraction and representation, that I was playing with in the Modern Venus series.

As soon as you’re looking straight at a face, the identity of the sitter overrides any perception of shapes and colors. Coco and Josephine were rescue cats and they didn’t like strangers. Whenever I saw them, they looked at me in the querulous (slightly berzerk) way that I showed in the painting,  then quickly took off for a safe place.  So, in retrospect,  it’s really no wonder Kate didn’t want this on the wall,  as Coco and Josephine were a lot happier looking when she was alone with them. Happy is the way you want to remember the things you love, not berzerk.

This part of the weekly Post Week of April 15 – 21 Complete. The Most Reviled Form of Art, Cezanne Gets the Last Laugh, Maria Maria, & More Modern Venus. If you want to read it click here.

Modern Venus #8 and a Note About the Structure of the Blog




No story today,  Just one of the Modern Venus Series (#8 ). It’s 16 by 20 inches, Gouache and acrylic on watercolor paper, copyright Edward Weiss.

Also a note about the structure of the blog. Things were getting kind of cluttered with a new page every day. So, though I will continue the same number of posts, I will combine them into one page and publish that page at the end of the week.

So, see y’all in a week.




Portrait of Myself as a Young man with Eyeliner and Shimmer Lights

Loaisaid#1 againshrunkagain

This was sort of a strange exercise. I’ve been thinking of doing a series of paintings of the East Village of the 1980s (mainly street scenes) and I’m not quite sure how I want things to look. So Just to get started,  I did a portrait of myself the way I looked back in those days,  using  a  number of different sources for reference. It’s gouache on a 16″ X 20″ surface called watercolor board (made by Arches). It’s cheaper than the 300 pound watercolor paper I usually use for gouache, but I didn’t really care for it.

It’s an odd experience to look at your past self from a distance of decades. Much odder than looking back at other people (who seem more comprehensible with the passage of time). When you look back at yourself, you realize how much you’ll never really understand.





Don’t Mess With 13


Most of the Modern Venus’s are done on paper. The majority are on 300+ pound watercolor paper, either Arches or Fabriano.   I experimented with number 13, tried an Indian watercolor paper whose name I can’t remember, and some of the weird stuff commonly associated with the number occurred.

The paper was quite strong and dense; I think it may have been rated at over 500 pounds.But it was unsized and  I didn’t realize that when I started.  Not that I ever really understood exactly what sizing does, but I figured it out after this. Sizing keeps some of the paint on the surface and when there’s no sizing, the paper just soaks up any liquid (in this case, gouache).

I started painting this thing and the paper just soaked up my colors. They disappeared. So I put more on, and more on; and eventually, after applying 5 times the usual amount, it finally  looked like there was paint where I had applied it. I liked the way the picture came out. But the paper made it seem  like I was working in a completely unique medium that I didn’t really understand. So I never tried it again.

Necessity is the Mother of ReInvention


I knew when I set out to do this blog that if I tried to do some kind of chronological narrative of my fabulous career, it would end up in shreds. I also knew it would be kind of tempting in the beginning.  So I thought the best thing to do was to make a big jump in time, right from the get go. This painting is from the Modern Venus Series that I started in the late 1990s. I hadn’t been painting for almost 20 years at that point and I only started again because been I had some arm overuse injuries that prevented me from playing the guitar. Music was everything to me at that point in my life, and I just was hoping to keep myself busy until I could play again on a regular basis.

Before my hiatus I was an abstract painter. But just before starting up again, I had been looking at a lot of classic pin up art; and It occurred to me that maybe I could combine the two. The Modern Venus Series is what I came up with. This is Modern Venus #15. It’s 22″ X 30,” Gouache, and acrylic on paper.