Back to the pictures
December 16, 2011 § 2 Comments
The time has come to a) examine breasts, and b) return to art.
If you have been following me on twitter, you may know that I have been consulting surgeons about having a bilateral mastectomy, followed by reconstruction. This is because my breast cancer is the result of me being a carrier of the inherited BRACA1 gene. The geneticist from Great Ormond Street tells me that having this gene meant that I had an eighty percent chance of developing breast cancer over the course of my life – yes, bloody hell, eighty percent. I still have a fifty percent chance of developing a brand new tumor. Not being that keen to repeat the experience, I am opting to have both breasts removed and replaced either by implants or tissue from my stomach.
Not surprisingly therefore, breasts have been on my mind, so to speak. Here are some thoughts, illustrated by work I have shamelessly raided from the Tate’s 20th Century collection. (Apologies to them.)
1. Vanessa Bell, Nude circa 1922-3
I like this because the model looks like a normal woman (i.e. me). She’s also a bit lob-sided, which apparently is usual. One of the problems for a surgeon undertaking reconstruction on a single breast is matching its size to the remaining one. My file at the hospital is full of sketches and measurements, although having both done at once makes this mismatching less of an issue. I also sympathise with the general fed-up look of this woman.
2. John Currin, The Wizard circa 1994
I’m not entirely sure what is going on here, but it reminded me of my many examinations (and yes, I usually look like the lady here). Surgeons do a lot of looking and weighing up. And, while my science friends will reject this, they are something like modern-day wizards. The options I am being given are pretty damn amazing.
3. Mark Gertler, Queen of Sheba 1922
One of the options for reconstruction is to take tissue from the stomach and reallocate it. This would be an eleven hour operation, involving three consultants. Blimey. You have to have enough of a stomach to do this, so for once the larger, pie-eating woman comes into her own. The Queen of Sheba would have been a good candidate.
4. Hans Bellmer, The Doll 1936/1965
The issue with using the stomach is whether there is enough there to make breasts of “an appropriate size”, appropriate I assume to the particular patient. You don’t want to wake up after eleven hours of surgery and be disappointed, I suppose. Here, we see something of an inappropriate size.
4. Rineke Dijkstra, Julie, Den Haag, Netherlands, February 29 1994
The point of breasts, 1: for the baby.
4. Eric Gill, Ibi Dabo Tibi 1925
The point of breasts, 2: self-evident. (Plus, I have a soft spot for Eric Gill, only because a Walter Shewring – no relation – edited his letters.)
5. Eric Gill, Skaters 1926
The point of breasts, 3: admittedly less common, but nude ice skating.
6. David Bomberg, Lilian 1932
This is a portrait of Bomberg’s wife, Lilian. The Tate says, “Lilian remembered that she sat with a black satin dressing-gown around her shoulders and arms, because she was shy of posing completely nude.” I like this painting because it reminds me that there was a time when the world and his wife had not measured, poked, photographed and sketched my chest, when I did care who saw and who didn’t. I like her modesty and the way the artist keeps something back from the viewer. This is how it was and maybe how it will be again.