“The artist gazes upon a reality and creates his own impression.
The viewer gazes upon the impression and creates his own reality.”
Recently, I was introduced to the work of Fran Henke, an Australian artist, writer and polio survivor who has re-envisioned three famous works of Degas, Modigliani and Rembrandt. Her series of paintings is called “The Afters.” It is an evocative trio of take-offs prompting the viewer to contemplate… after what? After whom?
For me, The Afters somehow emotes an ethereal spirit that whispers messages about the essence of women in our culture and then more specifically about the evolving social acceptance of women who have a disability. “Beauty is,” indeed, “in the eye of the beholder.” Or is it intrinsic? What is beauty, anyway?
Look for the braces and wheelchair. Listen for the whispered messages…
Left: “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen”; Edgar Degas; 1881. Right: “After Degas’ Little Dancer”; Fran Henke, 2014.
As a viewer, what is your reflection about these before-then-after works of art?
What might the artist be saying about 21st century Western society’s view of women who have a disability?
About the Artist
Fran Henke is a busy Australian artist. She had polio in 1943, an isolated case in a small country town. At the time she was quarantined and felt fortunate not to be sent to Melbourne’s big hospital. Living with a post-polio disability, she read a lot as a child, and grew up wanting to become a career writer. The only way to do that and earn a living in those days was to be a journalist, so she did. Fran specialized in reporting about books and the arts. After 50 years, she retired as a journalist in Australia and overseas, and now lives in an industrial port town, on the Mornington Peninsula in South East Victoria. Upon retirement, Fran was able to go to art school and to write books, including artists’ books (see Smithsonian blog for a definition).
She also decided that since she had strong communication skills, she should use those skills to benefit people who also had polio. During the past 15 years, she has energetically campaigned for meeting the needs of polio survivors in Australia and worldwide.
Fran relates, “this Afters series came out of my belief that art needs to say something. When a U.S. polio survivor mentioned her discomfort at a Modigliani lady’s skirt length… I repainted Modigliani!” She lengthened the skirt, gave the chair wheels and the lady, leg braces. This year she has continued to revise and provide re-interpretation of beautiful women painted by the great Masters, Degas and Rembrandt. Ms. Henke has provided us with new, fascinating portraits.
Fran has worked with Redbubble, which is a Melbourne-based online marketplace for print-on-demand products based on user- submitted artwork. She also has her own website with full contact details: www.franhenke.com
Thank you, Fran.