Muse 4.3 (The Ear)

I came up with the idea for the series of paintings that I’d call ‘The Muses’ whilst studying for my BA in Fine Art in 2012. Muse #4 was the subject of several paintings and drawings, but this one, 4.3, is one of my favourites.


Let’s face it – there’s a sense of power in looking when the subject cannot look back. How much more so is that true in a situation where the one looking is allowed to get this close… too close… to an unguarded point on the body?

Creepy. That’s what’s good about it.


Influence – Ellen Altfest

There were all sorts of influences flying around me at the time, as there naturally are in art school, but for these, I was particularly guided by Ellen Altfest and a trip to see her exhibition The Bent Leg at the White Cube in Hoxton. (Quite a lot of capital letters in that sentence – comes across a bit pretentious!)

There’s a clear link between Altfest’s tightly cropped images of male body parts and the portraits (and male body parts) that I created for my degree show. Seeing the detail she clearly laboured over up close made me want to dive into that painstaking labour process as well, although I could imagine that the experience was hallucinatory. Actually, I might have read that phrase somewhere in my research – either that, or I’m hallucinating the hallucination reference, which is entirely possible.

The exhibition, which was part of a class outing,  was a very encouraging experience for me as the only figurative painter in the group and the only one concerned with representational painting and hyperrealism. Seeing a female artist’s paintings of male subjects created in exactly the same manner as I’d intended to, with a focus so sharp it verged on the unreal, well, I suppose it was validating.



Muse 4.3 Oil on board painting by Lee Devonish


The White Cube kindly let me use some of the images for my dissertation on the male nude, which also referenced Ellen Altfest as well as Sylvia Sleigh.



I suppose I’d have to ask myself now, what part of the ear suggests masculinity? It’s not the ear so much as the surrounding hair and the haircut which frames this part as belonging to one gender or another. Now that answer could take me off on another hair-related tangent, but it’s safe to say that hair is still a subject I find interesting.

Whilst it was the hair, and responding to Altfest’s detailed layering of hairs that I was preoccupied with at the time, now I am more drawn to the fleshiness and folds of the ear itself. This was just a starting point for the work ahead. My future paintings will probably owe their ‘intensity of looking’ to this series, and to this picture in particular, the closest image of them all.



This painting will be available to purchase from my Etsy store.

A postcard of this painting is also available on Zazzle – click here to view.