I am expanding my list of ear-related artworks below as and when I make new discoveries.
The show is accompanied by poets' and artists' writings in a special edition of ARTY magazine, which also includes a suitably quirky roll-call of the ear's appearances in art.
Oil on linen, 40 x 40 cm
Cathy Lomax is fascinated by the romance of cinema, and her paintings – which she often shows in groups - link iconic scenes to form visual narratives in which we suspect she’d like to take part. Here Audrey Hepburn’s gamine beauty updates Vermeer’s pearl earring, while taking us back to a time of glamour in which the excesses of celebrity culture seem no more than incipient. Is there a snake in the idyllic grass, though – or, rather, smuggled into her famous hair?
If pareidolia most often stands for our tendency to see faces in the natural world, perhaps it’s aureidolia which leads me to see ear shapes in Clare Price’s abstractions, titled by a personal code and evoked a certain hesitant vulnerability. Or are those sound waves? Or are we inside the ear? Poised lyrically between trembling borders and invasive mist, they both seem to be listening to the other’s muted echo of geometric abstraction, so posing the question: what made the original sound?
EJ Major: Matiére Signalétique, 2017
Selected film stills
E.J. Major’s selected film stills set up visual parallels between Haneke’s La Pianiste and two other films, analysing the scene, as Deleuze proposes, not by traditional genres, but by what is intrinsic to the images themselves (their material as signals). A long take of Erika, the film’s central protagonist (a woman whose contrasting worlds are classical music and voyeuristic sex) recalls a moment of contemplation in Ozu’s Late Spring. Like the music interrupted in Haneke’s scene, says Major 'the suggestive function of the association is open'. Similarly as Erika enters a lift with her mother and bars access to a young man who has entered the apartment block behind them, is there something in the scene that we are not seeing? There's a visual echo of Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, but, says Major 'as one sheet of past is recognized, another, the sound, underwhelms the connection'. If in our mind’s ear we can hear the desperation in Schneider‘s voice as Brando chases up the stairs after her in the scene before the film’s tragic denouement, that suggests a darker side to Haneke’s filmic pun. Can we, Major asks, ‘see’ that? In looking, what do we hear?
Gouache on card - 48 x 63.5 cm (courtesy Austin Desmond Fine Art)
Alli Sharma: from the Bats series, 2017,
Alli Sharma makes lush and openly sentimental paintings of objects or animals to which we might imagine ourselves relating: keepsakes and jewellery, for example, or cats and birds. Her series of bats tweak that somewhat, as few people see them in the same sweet light. Nor, I suspect, do they differentiate one bat from another too much, but what comes across in Sharma’s set is the attractive personality of different animals.
Kate Lyddon: The Shell-Like Loop, 2017
Oil on canvas - 30x40cm
Emma Cousin’s paintings have an engagingly up front personality, bordering on the comic but balanced by a good deal of painterly acumen. The colloquial and the art-historical play off each other here, as an absurdly literal interpretation of an everyday phrase is delivered with a hint of Tiepolo. How fool is Cousin being, though? There may be a barb in the title, should anyone be visually tin-eared enough not to appreciate what she’s doing.
Clare Price: t.h.9, 2016
I love the time of dangle-down -
my flesh in her flesh, my movements
the days when his whispers are mine.
I hate the time of jumbled up.
Unjewelled by the dark, I sweat:
why should she take me off by night?
What rumours are these about studs?
sorted it weeks ago
so I don't have to pour oil
down my ears. I do anyway.
'Twice a day, twenty minutes'
said Nurse Florid in April
and then quite dreamily
as if considering the eye of the needle
'April is the cruellest month.'
Then she heaved herself
around the Treatment Room
in a miasma of giggles
'Oh, I do love ears!'
shooting her syringe
towards the ceiling
like the cowgirl in a B-movie
who gives it hard
and takes it hard
and who, by the end, is just one of the boys.
When I walked out
of Nurse Florid's Treatment Room
in dazzling April
my ears were so clean
I thought of banging out
an Alleluia with the Baptists.
I miss Nurse Florid
and her peculiar oblations.
I do it for her mostly.
A Charm for Earwigs
no one heard you as you clambered
up the nursery slopes of pillow,
felt your way in heaving darkness
where a dreamer breathed siroccos,
scaled the north face of an earlobe,
stumbled on the antihelix
where the cartilage was ruckled
into an upended mizmaze,
teetered round its corrugations,
to the vortex where the tragus
overhung a bloodwarm grotto.
There was curl-room in the concha
but the scent of earwax drew you
through a straight and oozy burrow,
thrumming with a distant heartbeat.
First the walls were soft, then bony,
then antennae scratched a membrane.
you awoke me from my stupor,
rasping with a chitin stylus
on my mind’s long-playing vinyl,
ratcheting my taut tympanum
with your cacophonic tarsi,
set my ossicles percussing
with the clangour of rough music,
dustbins, copper saucepans, kettles.
Now I smear a linen poultice
with the pulp of roasted apple,
press it, wincing, on my pinna.
Malic steam pervades my chambers
to entice you with a perfume
sweeter than November compost.
Clipshears, codgybell, twitch-ballock,
lift your bristles from my eardrum,
let the sea of cochlea settle,
turn back from the labyrinth.
The latest thought is that most of the ear
was cut off by Van Gogh just before Christmas.
Cut by himself or by Gauguin’s sword?
The consensus seems that he did it himself
at the Yellow House, having threatened the friend
who was threatening to leave, whom he saw
as a traitor, a kind of a murderer.
Given to a whore or a young woman he knew?
Not a whore, but poor Gaby, whom a rabid dog bit.
The wound had been cauterized, scarring her arm;
her life saved by injections in a Paris hospital
that her job in the brothel helped to pay for.
And what became of the ear?
It made Gaby faint when she opened the paper,
saw what it contained. She dropped the gift.
It went to the hospital, I read, but couldn’t
be sewn back on. Since then, I don’t know.
though, like Shelley’s heart, or Cromwell’s skull,
or Thomas More’s head, someone may have kept it,
decided they must garder cet object
as a keepsake, a touchstone, an almost holy relic,
to be perfumed or bound in special linen
or buried by night in a secret place
away from prying eyes, researchers
and perhaps unbalanced future fans.
Marcus and me like to wear
three jumpers to school.
The teacher tells me to say
the word warm at least
seven times a day. But Marcus
says that warm is too small
a word, it moves away
too quickly like a mouse.
Marcus says that Anaemia
are little creatures, like lice.
He thinks he’s caught them
by sucking the daisy foam
off my wallpaper.
Mum might have it too,
her pale face and kisses
taste of copper coins.
She doesn’t mind Dad’s
barking. Will it kill her?
Like her too tight shoes or
an Asthma Attack? Marcus
sometimes hides outside
my parents’ room. His ear
to the wall, his finger scraping
the paint off the radiator.
When Marcus and me have
an earache we go to my mum
and kneel like a donkey, my head
sideways on her lap, catching
the splashes one drop,
two drops. Mum rounds up
the wild hair from my ear but
her thumb can’t shut out the thunder.
When she first got them she wore
them every day like a new
dress, twirling in the racket
and tumble of words like rain.
Now she delays putting them
in for as long as possible.
She likes the cool deep silence
of unravelling iced velvet.
Frank jerks his head and whispers
"Tell gran not to drink her ears”,
at the plastic snails coiled in a tumbler.
Far away as a pigeon up a tree she shouts
“I haven’t put my ears in."
We know she’ll drink her tea
then loop them up and over
between dry cartilage and
stiff grey perm into deaf ears,
pretending to switch them on.
I am reading a poem about silence
where Beethoven appears in the last line,
straining to hear his own symphony.
The waiting room is full of muffled coughs,
whispered conversations, the soft tread
of the intern’s surgery slippers on the tiled floor.
The doctor looks deep inside, probes a thin needle
into the inner chamber, applies suction,
I can hear a long roar, then pop. The room is full
of creeks and songs, a sonic hum
I've never heard before, the low tone of dog whistles.
I am Super Ear. The doctor’s voice resonates
inside my body. I carry his clear vowels home
and on the way I try to remember everything
I didn't hear, the thousand daily sounds
that just washed over, or disappeared,
in case I have lost something important,
a phrase that might have changed my life,
the music of a new language.
Ears for the Eyes
We’re out riding, me and you in the New Forest, along a sandy track.
You stop: I see from your ears you have spotted a bird (or two) in the bush way, way ahead, beyond me. Your ears pricking forward, stalky and strained, say it all.
We wait – one of us patient, one of us tense. My legs pressure your sides, asking you to walk us on. Lowering your head, you acquiesce.
You like to scan the land, seeking threats, as when your wide-scoping eye finds the loping dog behind: no sounds find my ears, but yours, flat back, shout high alertso that I tense to your spring forward, your dismissing of the dog-foe, the kick across its bows.
And on we trot.
Yes, you are good at dogs. But not so snakes, masked under cover of heather edging our track. Snakes who, if there, quicken to trit-trotting hooves.
You start, you snort, you spook to the side. Your ears let me down, too quick for me, and sharp down I go, striking the track, vibrating your snakes away.
You wait, regarding me, as if to say it’s safe, it’s safe for you back on my back.
So on we trot.
Hear in the Art
Jump red tick
Drum my rib
Jump red tick
Ear in the heart
Jump red tick
Sound me out
Jump red tick
Herd this us
Jump red tick
Bug lug vamp
'I saw a red tick and I have a friend with Lyme disease, which has kind of ruined his life except he’s anything but a ruined person, and the tick jumped and looked to me like a heart - shape, colour, jump-jumpiness.' - CC
Cautiously - is that the door? -
I quantify her habit:
three boxes with thirty four
pairs (admittedly five from me),
two lonely extras (one mine -
a parrot whose mate flew free
in high winds at Devil’s Dyke)
plus the six she always wears.
Eighty-odd, of which I like
especially the bamboo
drops which, looking so heavy,
yet fall light; the dangle-zoo
with lizards and swinging apes;
the yellow shells - with the surge
of the sea on tap, perhaps –
and the abstracts which make her
a miniature gallery.
But enactments talk louder
than taste; and more than suggest
that of all her adornments
I love this repertoire best –
for what do I tend to buy
as proof? And what does she wear
that I never even try
to take off? In ears we share
a mild imbalance - with which
we’re happy, being a pair.
LEND ME YOUR EARS
Hieronymus Bosch: Detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights, c. 1490-1510
The outcome of the most notorious ear incident isn't far way - the Courtauld owns this painting - but arranging a loan might have been awkward... The latest research concludes that Vincent cut off the whole ear, so giving an automatic art reference to the various more recent sculptural treatments of an ear.
Kelvin Okafor: Identity Series - Ear, 2014
Kelvin Okafor is known for his stunningly achieved graphite and charcoal portrait drawings of his friends, such as the exhibition's Katherine's Interlude. Here though is a self-portrait which, paradoxically, shows only his ear, posing the question: how many people could you recognise from such a view?
Salvador Dalí: Madonna, 1958
This is an unusual twist on Dalí's paranoiac-critical method of 'systematising confusion' by ambiguating images 'to descredit the world of reality'. For it is a dot abstract up close (which Dalí saw as molecular activity), as well as being both the Virgin Mary and an ear (the Pope's and the one cut from the high priest's servant during Jesus' arrest, in another doubling).
Francis Upritchard: from Wetwang Slack, 2018
Francis Upritchard's archeologically-styled installation at the Barbican's Curve Gallery (Wetwang is a a chariot burial site in Yorkshire) included a whole cabinet of ears appearing somewhat untimely ripped, complete with their decoration.
David Shepherd: Wise Old Elephant - unlimited print from his 1962 painting
This was the world's best-selling print in the 1960's, launching David Shepherd's career as a wildlife artist and conservationist. His commercial success was built on two failures: when, on leaving school, he travelled to Kenya hoping to become a game warden; and when he was rejected by the Slade on his return to England. Critical acclaim has eluded him, too, but few paintings have such a high proportion of ear.
Joyce Pensato: On the Way, 2008
Mickey Mouse probably has the most famous ears in popular culture, and many artists have used him. Joyce Pensato deconstructs pop art's cartoon icons by crossing them rather brutally with Abstract Expressionism. The battered energy of her charcoal and pastel here leads to a typical balance of humour and grotesquery.
Morgan Wills: Listeners, 2019
Rachel Maclean: still from Germs, 2013
The ears are often striking parts of Rachel Maclean's many ways of dressing herself up to appear as the only actor in her super-saturated worlds. As a germ, appearing in parody adverts for killing them, does she have five hands, three of them oddly placed - or three hand-like ears, only one curiously located?
Suzanne Dworsky: Sea Breeze, 1978
This is from the American photographer's a set of close-cropped images of Cape Cod. What's nice here is the intimacy of focus, enhanced by the rainbow heart, and the implications teed up by the title: of action - through the blown hair - and sound: breeze, breath, waves.
John Deakin: Francis Bacon, 1960
Bacon commissioned his drinking partner Deakin to take photographs he then used as source material, including many of George Dyer - the three of them even holidayed together. He was drawn to the double exposures Deakin sometimes made, and fed some of those effects into paintings.
Georgia O'Keeffe: Red Hill And White Shell, 1938
Not so much a word in your shell-like as a suggestion that the landscape might be listening to us, just as we should listen to it. That aside, one of O'Keeffe's best meldings of geometry and colour in the guise of representations in which the body never seems far away.
And staying with the ear's listening function, hear the pinkness of the bell suggests an analogy between clapper and anvil, while the floating through the air is a famous feature of rock in some of Magritte's work, takes on the logic of the medium of sound.
Karen Kilimnik: Alectrona, goddess of the sun + beach - yellow marble statue, Versailles with Princess Caroline bows, 1987 and Giant earring, 1987-2018The Magritte was one kind of giant - and punny - ear-ring. Here's another: Karen Kilimnik's pastel drawing has a velvet bow and rhinestone earring attached, then reprised in combined sculptural form in Velvet, foam, hand-blown glass and steel at a height of 130cm. Fantasy and reality are somehow out of kilter.
Veronika Pausova: Playing the Organs, 2021
Czech born Toronto-based Veronika Pausova uses various isolated body parts – based here on her own ears – to create semi-abstract spaces where the interchange between the physical and cognitive plays out.
This references perhaps the second most famous ear wound in sporting history - Mike Tyson taking a chunk out of Evander Holyfield's ear in 1997. It also illustrates Crumplin's unique process of matching a semi-randomly generated abstraction with a found image which he then paints in realistic manner - it often takes him years to find a match, so this was pretty quick.
Nancy Fouts in performative mode, all ears at Chelsea School of Art, circa 1970. Fouts (1945-2019) made her name in advertising in the late sixties before returning to the gallery scene this century.
Bruce Nauman: Westermann's Ear, 1968
Bruce Nauman cast the ear of the artist HC Westermann, then surrounded the greenish plaster with a rope which both echoes the loops of the ear and can be read as the completion of a head to make a portrait which might well characterise his friend as a good listener.
Justin Fitzpatrick: 'A Whisper in the Cloister', 2019
Whereby whatever was said quietly - seems to be causing agitation by getting louder. Could it have been a rumour of scandalous behaviour, consistent with previous work by Fitzpatrick's which has revisited Aquinas' views on sexual sin?
Frédéric Bruly Bouabré: Les rumeurs de New York, 2010
Ivorian artist Frédéric Bruly Bouabré (c. 1923 – 2014) made many serialised drawings on cardstock, one set of which is multi-eared invocations of rumours from around the world. I saw this one in situ and in Trump's Stormy Daniels time...
Pat Steir: Self-Portrait, 1987 onwards
Returning to the multi-ear, Pat Steir, best known for her waterfall paintings, has reprised her 1987self-portrait drawings on several occasions: she has a team - to depersonalise the self-portrait form - draw ears and eyes in black pastel 'as if the walls of the room were inside of the skin of a person', lining this to Buddhist notions of the self.
Juusepe de Ribera: Studies of Two Ears and of a Bat, late 16th century
This study in red chalk and wash suggests the connection between ears and bats which 'Ears for the Eyes' explores in full. It includes the motto FULGET SEMPER VIRTUS - Virtue Shines Forever - which makes for a trickier connection to pin down...
Femmy Otten: The discomfort of rationality, 2016
Upcoming Dutch artist Femmy Otten mixes mythologies and eras liberally, and there's something of Gaugin's sculpture in this oil on burl wood face-of-sorts. The theme of ear inversion recurs: has the mind gone beyond normal physiognomy as well as its awkward rationality to reach a transcendental space of dream colour?
Eva Kotátková: image from Anatomical Orchestra, 2014
Aideen Barry: from Self-Portrait, 2021
Barry's lockdown-inspired Self Portrait suggests the distancing architecture of Zoom by dividing her across a nine channel moving image installation with nine channel sound by Stephen Shannon presented on nine identical wall mounted monitors. Here's the ear.
Georgina Starr: still from Quarantaine, 2019
Can you call it a pun, to find a letter in something? Of course, G is also for Gear, which may be a background pun you can just about H is for Hear...
Peter Liversidge: Proposal for Kate McGarry, 2017
John Baldessari: Ear Sofa; Nose Sconces with Flowers (in Stage Setting) at Art Basel, 2017
Baldessari gets a double appearance, consistent with his frequent isolation of unglorified body parts within his wider project of investigating the power of context in shaping meaning. Here, I guess, he is also listening to Dali's lips sofa.
Dorothy Cross: Red Baby, 2021
A pillow is carved from a block of Damascus Rose marble, based on Cross’s own childhood pillow and with an ear nestling at the centre where a head would leave an impression. The geological veins, in the Frith Street Gallery's words ‘run towards the ear presenting what seems like a pulsating body of stone’.
Rothenberg may be best known for her horses, but bodily fragments frequently feature in her range of archetypes. The effect here is to reduce the act of listening, somewhat disturbingly, to its essence.
Jana Euler: " " , 2016
German painter Jana Euler has a way with compellingly experiential body images. Here, in one of a coruscating series of paintings on the theme of the absent centre (and with an absent centre of a title for each in the set) , she collapses a body around a void which pivots on the ears.
David Altmejd: Small Loop with Focus, 2017
The Canadian's 2018 show with Modern Art consisted of white plaster-like reliefs enacting transformation and creation, often with hands making the work of which they were part. Here, though, what look like the conversion of man to floppy-eared dog seems to end up being heard rather than molded.
David Salle: Tennyson, 1983
Over to Salle himself: 'The red shapes at the painting’s left and right edges, like a band encircling the painting from behind, an embrace. Who is Tennyson, and what is he doing here in the sand? The carved ear - what is it listening to? The picture is quiet; a painting tuned to its own frequency'.
Aly Helyer's distorted and oddly coloured apparent portraits draw us in to doubts about whether we can pin down a unified self - and in this case an ear seems to arrive from some other place - illegitimately, judged by the title - to complement the Picassoesque line-up of the eyes.
Jonathan Baldock's installation at CGP's Dilston Grove project space tweaked the formative psychodramas of childhood. It included a version of the candles his grandmother used to make, big enough that you almost lose the delicately waxed ears, which are at full human size (indeed Baldock told me he sought out especially large and prominent ears to cast).
This typical Tillmans, perhaps the simplest image in my selection, scores for the casually intimate portrayal of the slightly downy aspect which hints at the ear's nibblability - if that's a word...
(found by) Mauro Bonachina: Untitled, 2018
This move into futher intimacy is one of the many striking images, one per day, sourced and posted by the artist Mauro Bonachina on his Instagram account. And each connects up cunningly to the next in a chain of wit...
Richard Deacon: Tall Tree in the Ear, 1984
Ad Minoliti: The Ears, 2018
Argentine artist Ad Minoliti often lays geometric shape over human imagery to alter its context. This reverses that rather, putting ears over an abstract painting which could also be a room. There's typically a sub-text of queering traditions, tough I'm not sure how that operates here...
David Lynch: still from Blue Velvet, 1986
Ways of Seeing: Echolocation
Using a high frequency system called echolocation, bats are able to see in the dark by using their ears. Echolocation works in a similar way to sonar. Bats make calls as they fly and listen to the returning echoes that bounce off objects or prey to build up a sonic map of their surroundings. They emit sounds through an open mouth, at a frequency too high for adult humans to hear, and use their ears as receivers. A bat can tell how far away something is by how long it takes the sounds to return. Individual bat species echolocate within specific frequency ranges that suit their environment and prey types so we can distinguish different types of bat using bat detectors. Most bats, including the well-known pipistrelle and long-eared species, operate in the range 40-50 kHz, but British bats are spread from as low as 20 kHz for the Noctule Nyctalus noctula to 110 kHz for the Lesser Horseshoe Rhinolophus hipposideros.
As I write I have one of Beethoven’s Piano Trios playing. Ladah deedo dee doodley do, deedodeedo ladade doode doode doode doode do. Hear it? For the most part I don’t. My focus is here. However, playing music with lyrics when I write interrupts my thoughts. Hardly unique but I may not be the same as you in this regard. Relations, says Deleuze, are what matter but they are constantly in flux. Relations operate both normatively and subjectively. The visual or sound image suggested to one mind is particular even when it is similar. This is Deleuze’s difference and repetition, wherein repetition as sameness extends into difference. They co-exist.