Toyin Ojih Odutola’s Heir Apparent (2018) conveys the sort of gratification that we have come to associate with a long soak today. On the wall, a pair of hanging masks are perhaps a subtle suggestion that while in the bath he is free from pretence, exposed and bare. For contemporary painter Emily Ponsonby, who focussed on bathing in her 2017 Soak series, bathing is a remedial activity. “Alone and within the security of a metal tub, the body surrenders and softens like spaghetti in a pan,” says the artist, who often paints with a poster of Bonnard’s The Bath in front of her. “When I paint someone in the bath, I’m painting a state of mind, rather than a literal representation of a body cocooned in water. We have cameras for that. I want to capture a feeling that is physically and mentally cleansed of both the past and present, devoid of doubts and released from reality.” Just like in Degas’ pastel series, the face of the bather is shrouded from view in Emily’s paintings – in Blue Tiles (2017) we look at the back of the bather’s head, down the bath, while in After the Bath (2017), the subject bends down to pick up the towel. It’s as if they’re absorbed by inner life, which, as the viewer, we just can’t quite glimpse. The bath, it seems, is much more than a metal tub.
Words by Elizabeth Metcalfe.
Elizabeth Metcalfe is the Deputy Features Editor at House & Garden Magazine.
Top image: The Tub, Degas. Pastel on blue-grey paper, ca. 1885-86, 27½ x 27½ in. (69.9 x 69.9 cm). Courtesy of Alfred Atmore Pope Collection, Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington, CT.
Side by side images by Emily Ponsonby. Left: Morning Light, 2017, oil and beeswax on panel, 62 x 52cm. Right: Blue Tiles, 2017, oil and beeswax on panel, 61 x 46cm.
Bottom image: Installation view of The CC Land Exhibition: Pierre Bonnard at Tate Modern 2019. Photo: Tate Photography.