In a week when suddenly, hurrah, we're waking up to the raw reality of women's bodies - the double mastectomies (a la Jolie), the episiotomies (a la Garai), the general bulges and scarring that afflict the vast majority of womankind rather than the airbrushed, buffed, pneumatic perfection the commercial world would rather have us believe, it is worth checking out the latest work of artist Ione Rucquoi. Never one to shy away from what some may consider shocking, it centres on real women (more real than the Dove variety), at various stages of life and circumstance, in all their naked, unabashed glory (each portrait is 8ft x 3ft).
Ione Rucquoi is a mixed media artist. She uses photography, but purely as a means of capturing her art. She has a vision and sets about finding the right model, sourcing the props, and setting the scene that she needs to bring that image to fruition. Once she achieves it, she immortalises it.
Her work is beautiful and macabre. It unleashes a whole stream of conflicting emotions in you and is not something you can simply pass by.
I know Ione. I'd only just met her when she asked me to pose for her. I was pregnant at the time, 34 weeks with twins. She explained in her matter of fact way that I would be naked from the hips up, wearing a long black PVC skirt, a black hangman hood over my head and sporting a large live bird of prey on my arm. I thought about it for a while then declined. First time pregnant, I was a little squeamish and worried that such a large, taloned bird flapping so close to my naked belly might inadvertently induce the little beings. She seemed to understand. Of course now, I kind of wished I'd done it.
Her work's well known in the vicinity (and becoming more so nationally and internationally), not least because she's used an awful lot of locals as models. All unpaid, but such is the power and originality of her work that they come willing. And people's desire to contribute to her art extends beyond just posing, to prop-sourcing. I got a hint of this when we were picnicking on her lawn as our daughters frolicked in the paddling pool. A couple of friends dropped by, carrying a dead magpie. Roadkill apparently, that they'd spotted and thought would come in useful. Ione set down her glass of wine, gratefully accepted said bird and bunged it in the freezer for future use.
She frequents local bric-a-brac sales, livestock markets and butterfly farms for anything dead or alive, manmade or natural, that may inspire an image or work as a prop for one she has in mind.
An evening will have her creating casts of her partner's ears or moulding teats out of latex, each to be applied in obscure unconventional bodily locations with skin glue. Or pinned. Like the beautiful dead butterflies she sourced for one job. Jewelled wings spread, she used acupuncture needles to affix them to the breasts of her pregnant subject, like flamboyant brooches on porcelain skin. She's careful of course to ensure that the needles do not penetrate her subject but instead an invisible latex cushion that she's moulded to the woman's skin.
Ione's current aforementioned project is her most ambitious yet. 'Sanctae' - a Portrait of Secular Saints features 21 eight-foot portraits of female nudes, each of whom will bear a gold-leaf halo. They all have their unique story but collectively expose the sometimes dramatic transformations women go though as they age, experience motherhood or illness. The project will focus on emphasising the physiological effects time and events can have on the female form, but also convey the emotions, expectations and sacrifices a woman experiences throughout her life.
Despite the raw full-frontal nude requirement and no payment beyond a print, women have lined up to be part of this piece. She didn't ask me and deflected all my hints of interest. Ever the diplomat she tells me she can't articulate what it is about a person that makes her want them as a potential subject - she has been known to accost them in the street - but it seems I don't have it, at least not this time.
The installation when displayed will be stunning and forthright in its celebration of womankind. It is dedicated to one of the models who died just two weeks after her photo was taken. She knew her time was short but was adamant that she wanted to be part of the project.
To see why Ione Rucquoi's 'Sanctae' will have such an impact when it's unveiled later this year check out this link. In a week when we're debating women's bodies in all their unairbrushed, damaged, aged glory, this work couldn't come at a better time.
It needs to be seen - please support it.