Igor Stravinsky: Dances of the Young Girls

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) was a Russian Neoclassical composer, pianist, and conductor. He is arguably the most influential composer of the 20th century. His style of composition is still noticeable in the work of film soundtrack composers. He first gained acclaim for three ballets commissioned by the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev, The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913). In last of these, Stravinsky developed a new system of bitonality and polyrhythms which gave him enduring reputation as a musical revolutionary.

Dancers in Nicholas Roerich’s costumes for The Rite of Spring

The premiere of the The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du printemps) on May 29, 1913, at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées in Paris started a riot; some accounts of the performance claim the police were called. The audience was shocked by Stravinsky’s unprecedented use of dissonance and rhythm as well as Vaslav Nijinsky’s unusual choreography of the dancers. The performance of the Introduction was uneventful, the riot really broke out according to Stravinsky, “when the curtain opened on the group of knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas jumping up and down”. Danses des Adolescentes  or Dances of the Young Girls is the first scene in The Rite of Spring in which Stravinsky employed his bewildering rhythms. The audience responded by whistling and stamping their feet, the noise was so great the performers could barely hear each other.

Beethoven 6th Symphony 2nd Movement (At the Brook)

Ludwig van Beethoven 6th Symphony 2nd Movement (At the Brook)

One would expect the music for a dance of young girls in Spring to be light-hearted in mood, perhaps something like this passage from Beethoven’s 6th “Pastoral” Symphony is what could be expected. ( At least this what Walt Disney had in mind for the Centaurettes in Fantasia)

Igor Stravinsky ~ The Rite of Spring ~ Dances of the Young Girls

Stravinsky shatters our expectations by instead having the girl’s dance begin with a loud pulse with unpredictable dissonant chord strikes, which ironically, later inspired John William’s theme for the attacking shark in the film Jaws! Erik Heine noted, “The accents in the shark’s music mirror the accents from the Dance of the Young Girls in Stravinsky’s ballet”. Stravinsky upset the meter most are accustomed to hear, a measure of four eighth notes — 1234, 1234, etc. instead, the accents (reinforced by of 8 French Horns!) make us hear 1234, 12345, 12, 123456, 123, 1234, 12345,123! melodic fragments from Russian folk songs are introduced which give the sense of a dance in an immense kaleidoscope.  Dances of the Young Girls can be heard here.

While it is true The Rite of Spring is a masterpiece of modern music in terms of form. Is it really modern in terms of content? Although Stravinsky gained reputation of being avant-garde, I’m certain he did not intend to cause offense, he said in an interview,”I knew the music (The Rite of Spring) so well and it was so dear to me that I couldn’t understand why people were protesting against it.” Gill Perry recognized that “Many artists whom we now label ‘modern’ were in fact opposed to the processes of modernization (by which I mean the forces of industrialization and urbanization in Western capitalist society).”

When Stravinsky was completing The Firebird in 1910, an image flashed in his mind:

“…there arose a picture of a sacred pagan ritual: the wise elders are seated in a circle and observing the dance before death of a girl whom they are offering as a sacrifice to the god of Spring in order to gain his benevolence. This became the subject of The Rite of Spring“.

Scott Affleck ~ Rite of Spring (sketch) 2013

Many remain blind to the trend in art between the late 19th Century and early 20th Century I refer to as Jugend. Many artists of the period felt the need to find “roots” away from the sophistication and materialism of the modern world. Very often rural peasants were chosen as a subject of great moral worth, others turned to youth. It seems that no one wants to notice this, for example Die Brücke paintings of young girls were central to the school but are not included in art history books. I make a point of the loss of sensitivity modernism has brought in my post ‘The Zeitgeist’ on Celestial Venus. The rites of passage have been done away with in modern society so Stravinsky, like many other artists, return to the initiation folklore of youth. Leonard Bernstein observed, “This is one very obvious sense in which Stravinsky’s music can be understood as Poetry of Earth; these pieces are deeply rooted in the earth of folklore, at times seeming to reach back even further than traditional folk music, reaching atavistically back to prehistory.”

One Blond Little Girl … and Many Racists in Europe

EPA/Greek Police – Maria (October 2013) (1)

My previous article ‘The Abducted Girl in Anti-Roma Imagery‘ analysed the use, notably in the early 20th century illustrated press, of the theme of the European little girl abducted by Roma. Now I will discuss the affair of the “blond angel” Maria, where the discovery of a blond little girl in a Roma camp in Greece sparked an international hysteria, with unfounded accusations of child abduction, and led to similar accusations being raised against Roma parents with blond children in other European countries. It revealed deep-seated racist stereotypes about this ethnic group. Finally, we will see that the “child abductors” are not the Roma, but the official institutions that have systematically taken away children from families of ethnic minorities.

Since this article is already very long, I had to leave out a detailed analysis of media coverage—not only the openly hateful gutter press (The Daily Beast, Daily Mail, The Sun, etc.), but also the self-styled “serious” BBC, which only propagated subtler forms of prejudice. I might return to this aspect on another occasion.

I have used many sources: first an article in Spiegel Online International (October 28, 2013), second a consolidation of the case by Natasha Dukach in Fair Observer (June 26, 2015), which contains many links to media treatment of the case, and third an extensive study of the case in the French Wikipedia, with many links to important documents, media coverage and scholarly analyses (this work was awarded the “article of quality” label by Wikipedia). See the references at the end of this post.

The story

Early in the morning of October 16, 2013, Greek police raided a Roma community in the town of Farsala (in central Greece).

Police were actually looking for drugs and weapons, but then they caught sight of this girl who looks so different than the rest of the family — and that alone sparked suspicions and fueled speculation: Maria could have been abducted or sold to a Roma family that kept the girl as an attraction, just as dancing bears were once led on chains through the towns of Europe. They could have forced her to beg or work for them, it was thought. … 10 police officers banged on the door … and then pulled Maria out of bed.
“This child is not yours; it’s white,” yelled one of the policemen. The little girl didn’t cry. The police also took along the parents, and the three of them sat in the backseat of a squad car. –Spiegel Online International, October 28, 2013

The couple claiming to be the parents of the little girl, Eleftheria Dimopoulou and Christos Salis, aged 40 and 39 respectively, were kept in police custody and interrogated.

Maria with her adoptive parents, Eleftheria Dimopoulou and Christos Salis (October 2013)

When police questioned them about Maria, they lied at first. But they eventually told the story of the Bulgarian woman, a migrant worker who placed the child in their care. Nevertheless, mistrust persisted. Dimopoulou, the mother, had a forged passport. To make matters worse, the couple have reportedly been collecting child benefits for a total of 14 officially registered children, six of which must have been born within a 10-month period, according to the information that they provided. They allegedly collected 2,800 Euros ($3,850) a month this way (Spiegel Online International).

DNA tests confirmed that Maria was not the biological daughter of Dimopoulou and Salis. The couple was charged with child abduction and forgery. Interpol released a Yellow Notice stating:

On 16 October 2013, a police operation took place in a camp near Larissa/Greece. During the operation, a little girl (approximately 4 years old) was found and the subsequent DNA check revealed that she was not the biological daughter of the couple who presented themselves as her parents. Preliminary investigations revealed that the couple abducted the minor in 2009 under unknown conditions.

The affair immediately made headlines in the European press, which in most case relayed uncritically the accusation of abduction, and sometimes spread various rumors, that Maria was forced to beg, that she was raised for prostitution, or in order to be sold in marriage at age 12, etc. And according to the Spiegel article, “Some TV reports have even speculated that the family wanted to raise Maria so they could sell her organs, and one story on organ trafficking included images of the Roma settlement.”

On October 22nd, two “blond angels” (blond Roma children with blue eyes) were found in Ireland, a 7-year-old girl in Tallaght and a 2-year-old boy in Athlone. The Guarda (Irish police) removed them from their parents, but in both cases DNA tests revealed that they were indeed the biological parents of the children; the latter were thus returned to their families (The Telegraph, October 23, 2013; The Guardian, October 24, 2013). In Serbia, skinheads attempted to abduct a fair-skinned Roma child:

On 22 October news server Blic.rs reported that a group of men described as skinheads almost succeeded in abducting a two-year-old child last Saturday evening from in front of his home on Šafarikova Street in Novi Sad just because the child’s skin was fairer than that of his father, Stefan Nikolić. The men accused Nikolić, who is of Romani nationality, of having stolen the child from its biological parents.
Nikolić told Blic.rs that when he threatened to call the police, the hooligans ran away. (Romea.cz, October 23, 2013)

Reuters – International appeal

Maria was put into the custody of the charity The Smile of the Child. An international appeal to find her parents was launched, which got around 9000 replies. Panayiotis Pardalis, spokesman for the charity, said that “about 10 cases of missing children around the world are “being taken very seriously” in connection with Maria’s case. They include children from the United States, Canada, Poland and France.” (CNN, October 23, 2013) But none of the cases matched Maria.

Meanwhile the last explanation given by the couple, that they had been given the girl as a baby by a Bulgarian woman who couldn’t take care of her, was confirmed by their Greek lawyer and also by residents of the Roma camp in Farsala, who said that Maria’s biological father had been visiting a few days before. Investigations led to a Roma camp in Nikolaevo, Bulgaria, where many residents show the same features as Maria. A couple with 9 children was identified, Atanas Rusev and Sasha Ruseva, aged 36 and 38 respectively; DNA tests confirmed that they were the biological parents of Maria. A check at the hospital in Lamia yielded her birth certificate, dated January 31, 2009 (GR Reporter, January 14, 2014). Here is the version given by Sasha Ruseva:

In 2008, she went to Greece to harvest oranges and gave birth to a girl there. She actually intended to name her Stanka, but since nobody at the hospital understood that, she called the baby Maria. She said she had no money to acquire papers for the child. One of the women helping with the harvest offered to take care of the child and promised: “You can pick her up her anytime.” She never took any money for the girl, says Ruseva. She worked for another few days in Greece, and then she returned to Nikolaevo, she says.
Ruseva has seen pictures of Maria on TV. “I would take her back, but I’m so poor that I don’t even have enough money to properly clothe my children,” she says (Spiegel).

Stoyan Nenov/Reuters – Sasha Ruseva with 2-year-old son Atanas (October 2013)

The article adds, “And the Greek Roma who have raised Maria are thus neither child traffickers nor thieves, but merely the two adults who have been Maria’s father and mother since soon after her birth.”

Guilty until proven innocent, human rights violated

Media coverage mostly uncritically propagated accusations of child trafficking against Salis and Dimopoulou. As writes the Spiegel article: “The principle of innocent until proven guilty — which should also apply to Roma families — was ignored by the TV reporters. Every day now, the Greek government orders Roma communities to be searched for weapons, drugs and blond children.” Similarly the police assumed that they were guilty of abducting Maria. Indeed the above-quoted Interpol Yellow Notice said “Preliminary investigations revealed that the couple abducted the minor in 2009 under unknown conditions.”

EPA/Greek Police – Maria (October 2013) (2)

The Smile of the Child also propagated the worst stereotypes about Roma, accusing Salis and Dimopoulou of the most heinous crimes without proof. According to The Huffington Post of October 19, 2013, Panayiotis Pardalis, a spokesman for the charity, said “it was obvious” that she was not a Roma girl, while its director Kostas Yannopoulos told private Skai TV “We are shocked by how easy it is for people to register children as their own … There is much more to investigate, there are other registered children that were not found in the settlement, and I believe police will unravel a thread that doesn’t just have to do with the girl.” According to CNN, October 23, 2013, Pardalis also said “We don’t have any other information if this girl was forced to work or to beg on streets.” In a video interview shown on BBC News (October, 18, 2013), Yannopoulos declared “it shows that it could be kidnapping and combined efforts of these people to buy and sell children … They will use this little girl in the streets to beg because she was blonde and everybody says she was cute.” Then in a subsequent video on BBC News (October, 19, 2013), he said “she was either sold at maternity or later abducted for begging, because they use children for begging, or later for prostitution or even worse for selling for other purposes.” The nature of this “worse” is left to your imagination.

Natasha Dukach raises an important point:

Not a single article even mentioned the possibility of human rights violations to the Roma couple. As they adopted Maria illegally and had problems with their papers, no one considered their human rights. … Each European country has its own human rights laws, and these should be applied to everyone in the country, regardless of their nationality or ethnicity. Human rights laws were not applied in the case of Maria. The media failed to report on this angle or even ask the question as to whether gypsies have human rights.

Because Maria’s adoption by the Greek couple was informal, both their parenting rights and those of the Bulgarian biological parents were not taken into account. The fact that Salis and Dimopoulou fraudulently declared 14 children in order to obtain child benefits is not a valid excuse for this. Indeed, there have often been affairs of financial or fiscal fraud involving huge sums of money, but each time the (rich and non-Roma) defrauders saw their rights respected, and their family was not broken by authorities. Incidentally, fraud on taxes and social benefits are very frequent in Greece.

As remarks Jana Hainsworth in Euractiv, society tends more and more to remove children from their families because of “bad” parenting, but in the majority of cases, the family problems are due to poverty.

The informal adoption of Maria by Salis and Dimopoulou can be explained by Roma culture. Unlike Westerners, they do not function according to the model of the nuclear family, where parents “own” their children, whose interactions with the adult world are strictly regimented. They rather follow the extended family system, where children can be raised by cousins, uncles, grandparents, etc. and there is an extensive community involvement in the raising, education and welfare of children. Living as a “homeless nation” marginalized and excluded by mainstream society, they tend to follow their own rules, and not those of the countries where they are stigmatized and marginalized. As writes Louise Doughty in The Guardian of October 22, 2013:

Informal adoption is commonplace, particularly in societies where children are raised collectively by extended family units, and families of eight or 10 are not unusual. Across the world, children in economically difficult circumstances are left with grandparents, aunts and uncles, or sometimes given away because the birth parents cannot provide for them. This is hardly a practice unique to Roma society, and it is a long way from deliberate abduction for the purposes of “child trafficking”, an assumption that the non-Roma world has been happy to make with impunity.

The aftermath

As soon as it was revealed that Maria was indeed the biological daughter of the Bulgarian Roma couple, the press immediately lost interest in her case. Most journals that had propagated the accusation of abduction soon forgot her. Some turned their coats elegantly, such as the French online journal Atlantico: on October 22 it titled ‘Greece: “the blond angel” was at the heart of a child traffick and was destined to be sold’ then on October 24 an article by Emanuela Ignatoiu-Sora titled ‘Why affairs of “blond angels” unfortunately awaken prejudices against Roma, children kidnappers.’

Maria as a toddler (c.2011)

As writes Zeljko Jovanovic in The Guardian of October 28, 2013, under the appropriate title ‘Maria is Roma — so now she will become invisible once more’:

When the glare of the media spotlight fades, Maria will go back to a life of exclusion, without basic documentation or rights … But now that it has emerged that Maria is a Roma child, it is painfully predictable that global interest in her fate will fade. Whatever the legal fate of the couple who have been charged with her abduction, Maria, like other Roma children, will have to navigate her way through life suffering illiteracy, unemployment, and segregation in education.

So it has been very difficult to find more recent information about her case (apart in the French Wikipedia article).

On June 30, 2014, the tribunal of Larissa awarded full custody of Maria to the Smile of the Child charity. The decision was motivated by the need to avoid a change of environment for the girl, who had been in the care of the charity since October 2013. She is now going to school. On November 9, 2015, the appeals court of Larissa acquitted Christos Salis and Eleftheria Dimopoulou of the charge of abduction. But for their use of forged documents, they were sentenced to suspended prison terms, 2 years for Dimopoulou and 18 months for Salis.

It seems that Bulgarian authorities intended “to remove seven of Sasha and Atanas’s other children, placing them in different social care services including an institution.” (Jana Hainsworth, Euractiv, November 13, 2013) However I have no information on what was finally decided in this case, as well as on any Greek decision regarding the custody of the other children of Salis and Dimopoulou.

EPA/Greek Police – Close-up of Maria (October 2013)

Blond angels and dark devils

When the DNA of the two blond Roma children in Ireland was shown to match that of their brown parents, the two French media France 24 and L’Express titled ‘No “blond angels” in Ireland, the two Roma children given back to their families’ and ‘No “blond angel” in Ireland: two Roma children have been given back to their parents.’ Apparently, blond children are “angels” only if they are Westerners abducted by Roma. As writes Louise Doughty in The Guardian:

She is, we have been told repeatedly, the girl Greece is calling “the blonde angel”. She is certainly blonde — and she is a young child who deserves concern as all children do, particularly those facing poverty or discrimination. Whether or not she is angelic is a matter of stereotype rather than personality. She is angelic in the eyes of the media only in stark contrast to the circumstances in which she was found: in a Roma camp in Greece, with dark-skinned parents who, DNA tests have revealed, cannot be her birth parents.

Nikolay Doychinov/AFP Getty Images – Three Rusev children inside their family home (2013) (1)

Some people have explained by a kind of genetic defect the light skin and blond hair of Maria and of some residents in the Roma settlement of Nikolaevo. “Maria’s blonde hair and pale complexion was found to be due to her biological father’s albino gene,” writes Natasha Dukach in Fair Observer. In other words, this would be some sort of accidental occurrence.

Nikolay Doychinov/AFP Getty Images – Three Rusev children inside their family home (2013) (2)

However blond hair, a light skin and blue eyes are not uncommon among Roma people. In The New York Times of October 25, 2013, Dan Bilefsky quotes Dezideriu Gergely, the executive director of the European Roma Rights Center, based in Budapest:

Mr. Gergely, a human rights lawyer who has a Roma father and a white Romanian mother, noted that many Roma, who arrived in Europe from India centuries ago and are also known as Gypsies, came from mixed families.
He himself has light skin and blue eyes, which he said punctured the widespread stereotype that Roma have dark hair and dusky complexions.

Nikolay Doychinov/AFP Getty Images – Four Rusev children inside their family home (2013)

One can guess that Westerners don’t see white children with coloured parents in the same way as the reverse:

“Imagine if the situation were reversed and the children were brown and the parents were white, would they have ever been taken away?” said Dezideriu Gergely. … “The most dangerous consequence of the hysteria is that now we have to live in fear that our children can be removed from us on the basis of a wrong perception. No one should be profiled on the basis of their ethnicity.” (Dan Bilefsky, The New York Times)

Gene Demby in NPR, October 27, 2013, inquired with readers:

We asked readers on Twitter about times when people treated them and their relatives as if they weren’t related. Some stories were funny. But sometimes the cops were called.
One Asian-American woman told us that her white adoptive parents and her white husband are assumed to be related, while she was assumed to be the person who married in. But several women of color with light-skinned children said people just assume them to be their nannies and not their parents. Several people remembered that as children, people inquired with concern about their safety — in echoes of the Roma cases, strangers thought their darker skin parents might have been abductors. (Interestingly, white or lighter-skinned parents with darker children were instead assumed to be adoptive parents.)

Greek Police – Maria (October 2013) (3)

The dark-skinned Rom is seen as a symbol of dirt and crime. For dirt, compare the image of Maria on the day of the police raid, shown at the top of this article, with the one used in the international appeal to search her parents, shown here: fingers tainted purple, unkempt hair and a distressed look in the former, then neatly combed hair, a nice pink and white sweater and a smile in the latter. According to The Huffington Post, Panayiotis Pardalis, spokesman for The Smile of the Child said “She was afraid and under some psychological pressure when she arrived. Colleagues have been trying to communicate but are struggling. She seems to understand Greek but cannot speak it. She was living under bad conditions and was very dirty but is now safe.”

For crime, I quote again the words of Gergely given by Dan Bilefsky:

“It is mystifying that those accused of criminality are seen to represent the Roma community,” he said, noting that if people engaged in human trafficking it was because of severe poverty, not their cultural background. “Applying collective responsibility to the entire Roma community is unacceptable.” … Roma advocates counter that if there is crime among some Roma, it is the byproduct of severe economic deprivation and social exclusion that allowed a minority of unscrupulous ringleaders to exploit poor people desperately eking out an existence on society’s fringes.

Who are child abductors?

In my previous article, I quoted Thomas Acton, Emeritus Professor of Romani Studies: “I know of no documented case of Roma / Gypsies / Travellers stealing non-Gypsy children anywhere.” Quite to the contrary, there are many instances of minority children being systematically removed from their families in order to be put into the custody of white middle-class families. Well-known are the plight of the aboriginal children in Canada (the “Sixties Scoop”) and Australia (the “Stolen Generations”). The Yenish are a nomadic group living in Central Europe; in Switzerland, between 1926 to 1972, 600 Yenish children were forcibly taken from their parents by the “Oeuvre d’entraide aux enfants de la grand-route”, a charity set up to “protect children in danger of abandonment and vagrancy.”

So, sadly, the accused are rather the victims, poor, marginalized and unable to defend themselves.

References:

Further reading:

Didier Perrusset

On occasion, a fan of ours is also an artist and wishes to have his work published on Pigtails. Assuming the work is of sufficient artistic merit, I am delighted to comply.

Didier Perrusset is a French photographer doing this work as a serious hobby for pleasure and to create a kind of legacy. He began shooting photographs when he was fourteen, with a completely manual camera. He did some professional work for a few months for Keystone Press Agency. His influences include David Hamilton, Lukas Roels, Sally Mann, Jock Sturges, Evgeny Mokhorev and Irina Ionesco and strongly believes their work is legitimate art and not mere pornography. His main interest is street photography, cosplay photography and artistic nudes. Young girls do feature prominently in his work and he tries to shoot 2 or 3 times a week. He operates north of Paris and won 1st place by popular vote in a recent competition.

Didier Perrusset – Stripes and Light (2016)

The following images are from his ‘Angels’ series.

Didier Perrusset – Angel (2016) (1)

Didier Perrusset – Angel (2016) (2)

Didier Perrusset – Angel (2016) (3)

Didier Perrusset – Angel (2016) (4)

Didier Perrusset – Angel (2016) (5)

Didier Perrusset’s Facebook page

Perrusset also has an online book and there is a video interview in French.

This artist has some interesting insights to share and I regret he did not mention them earlier so it could have been included when this post was first published.  Apparently, the hysteria and paranoia in France has reached a fevered pitch in regards to shooting young girls in public.  For example, a friend of Perrusset’s was approached by the police in Paris because he was taking pictures of a little girl—his own daughter!  Three years ago, Perrusset experienced something similar during a Bastille Day Parade (July 14th); the police were told that he was shooting little girls in the audience while they were watching the parade.  -Ron [20170329]

Compelling Images: William Klein

Another fan of our site has agreed to write for us.  His proposal was to write a series about single compelling images, usually by noted photographers.  I really appreciate his contribution and remind readers that others are always encouraged to offer their writing to on-topic images.  -Ron

William Klein – Dance in Brooklyn , New York (1955)

We generally prefer depictions of people to be clear and legible. If a person is out of focus, or too far away to assert their individuality, or in some way obscured, we tend to move on to another, more legible image.

But some photographs and paintings perversely refuse to let us have things easy and, despite the illegibility of their subjects, intrigue us and hold our attention—art has this in common with sports and games: it is at its most rewarding when it makes us struggle and pushes us to dig deeper.

William Klein’s Dance in Brooklyn, New York is an example of such a photograph. It seems to pose the question of how little visual information do we need to find someone beautiful.

The children in this photograph were moving while the exposure was made. Klein’s camera (the shutter probably set at 1/15th or 1/30th of a second) has captured this movement as smears, blur and the loss of form and detail.

These, and the coarseness of the grain, have reduced the face of the girl in this photograph to a few broad lines and surfaces. It has the look of an African mask.

The reading of the face depends, more than with any other part of the human body, on the legibility of fine detail—think of how little difference there is between a genuine smile and that same smile held too long and grown stale; think of the kind of details that allow us to distinguish identical twins.

One would expect, given this degree of illegibility, that it would be impossible to get any sense of the girl’s beauty or personality. Yet the little that comes through still manages to give a strong sense of a slim, shapely italic face.

And despite the camera’s imperfect, chaotic rendition of her gesture it has nevertheless captured something that a faster shutter speed (which would freeze the action), or a movie camera, would not: the girl’s energy, grace, and audacity, her confidence, playfulness and sense of humour. There is a trance-like sense of abandonment in the angle of her head and in her open mouth; her eyes at first appear to be looking at the photographer, but a subversive reading has them rolled back into her head, as if in ecstasy.

The photograph offers us a beauty that is especially poignant because it ultimately eludes us: we never really “see” this child. All we get is a tantalising glimpse of a personality whose vigour was imperfectly and beautifully captured for a fraction of a second some 62 years ago.

The Goddess of Youth on Her Father’s Back: Carolus-Duran’s ‘Hebe’

Carolus-Duran (born Charles Auguste Émile Durand in Lille, France in 1837) was an academic realist painter who focused primarily on portraits of French high society, but he occasionally painted nudes and mythological subjects. Here we have Hebe, the Greek goddess of youth, a fitting subject for the (official) 1,000th post at Pigtails in Paint, I think. Hebe was the daughter of Zeus and Hera—the chief god and his wife—and served as cupbearer in Mount Olympus, where the gods resided. Eventually she would marry Heracles (Hercules) and was then replaced by the beautiful boy Ganymede, who was abducted by Zeus in the form of an eagle and became not only Olympus’s cupbearer but one of Zeus’s lovers. The story of Ganymede is a fascinating one but beyond the scope of this blog. Anyway, in this lovely work, Zeus—again in the form of an eagle—serves as a perch for his young daughter as she makes her rounds serving nectar and ambrosia to the gods and goddesses of the Greek pantheon.

Carolus-Duran – Hebe (1895)

 

Little Girl vs. Bull: Kristen Visbal

As part of an ad campaign by State Street Global Investors to shed light on gender inequality in the workplace, sculptor Kristen Visbal created a statue of a bold little girl (aptly called Fearless Girl) to face down the famous Wall Street bull in Bowling Green Park, New York, an artwork universally associated with the financial district, particularly high speed trading. Fearless Girl was installed for International Women’s Day, a commemoration of working women started in 1909 by the Socialist Party of America, but it has since become a worldwide phenomenon and taken on a much greater import. In light of recent politics, a tiny but defiant ponytailed girl standing in the way of a two thousand pound raging bull seems somehow appropriate. Hopefully our little heroine can charm the savage beast!

Kristen Visbal – Fearless Girl (2017) (1)

Kristen Visbal – Fearless Girl (2017) (2)

Kristen Visbal – Fearless Girl (2017) (3)

Kristen Visbal – Fearless Girl (2017) (4)

Kristen Visbal – Fearless Girl (2017) (5)

Kristen Visbal – Fearless Girl (2017) (6)

Kristen Visbal – Fearless Girl (2017) (7)

 

Inspired by the Old Masters: Bill Gekas

Bill Gekas is a portrait photographer who is self-taught. He started his work in the mid 1990s, however, the artist’s first works were not published on the internet until 2010. These early works, mostly portrait-style photographs, quickly gained attention and praise; therefore the photographer started to enter them in competitions with many of them placing or winning outright.

Bill Gekas – Untitled (2016)

Bill Gekas – Red Beret (2011)

Bill Gekas – Andalucia 1881 (2012)

Most of his works are modelled by his daughter, Athena, and are inspired by, though not direct recreations of, the Old Master painters. The planning of the photograph takes many hours. First a sketch of the image is made in a sketch book, then the props and costume are sourced or made. The actual production of these pictures only takes between fifteen minutes to an hour, with most of the time spent on setting up props, the camera and lighting. The model is then brought in at the end of the set-up process and the photograph taken. When working with Athena, the creative process is made more enjoyable for her by keeping her time on the set to a minimum, as well as allowing her to act out the scene, rather than being told to pose or given direction. Additionally, she is also involved in and provides ideas during the preplanning of the shoot, which makes the process a collaboration between artist and model. Only a small number of these images are produced each year, as photography is not the artist’s primary source of income.

Bill Gekas – Field Day (2013)

Bill Gekas – The Curator (2015)

Bill Gekas – Pears (2011)

Bill Gekas – Coastal Gatherer (2016)

Not all of Bill’s images are in the classical style, or feature his daughter, with his 500px account being the best site to see his full range of photographs. Recently he has taken a detour into street photography, which the artist finds liberating, as it is the opposite of his portrait style photography, where he had full control of the final image, to a process where the only control is where the photographer places himself and when he pulls the shutter. The street photography images can be found on his Instagram account.

Bill Gekas – Mutual (2015)

Bill Gekas – Urban Jungle (2016)

The best and most detailed online interview with Bill Gekas can be found in Issue 10 of Creative Light Magazine; if you have a spare twenty minutes you should read it.

Maiden Voyages: March 2017

I do not have much to say this week, but I am glad that Pip, our Founder, and Christian, our Associate Editor, have messages for our readers.

A Reminder from the Founder: I understand that we have a wide range of viewers who are interested in our site. Some of them may even have a prurient interest in the images we post. While there is no way to actively bar such viewers from visiting, we would like to remind them that Pigtails in Paint is not, nor has it ever been, a child erotica site. We occasionally post artistic nude or demi-nude images of young girls in order to challenge the stigma against artists portraying kids in the nude, and to demonstrate that this sort of portrayal has a long and respectable pedigree through the entire history of art. Thus, if you are simply coming here to get some kind of lewd pleasure from gawking at naked underage girls, then I daresay this blog is not for you, and I courteously ask that you go do your ogling elsewhere. There are, no doubt, plenty of sites on the web that cater to your tastes. But if you insist on hanging around, then we ask that you keep your sexual comments to yourself. They are, at the very least, disrespectful to this site, its editors, and most importantly, to the artists who create this wonderful art, the girls in the images, and, by extension, all girls. Moreover, they directly threaten the integrity of the site. In short, they have no place here. We always welcome comments and questions that are insightful, informative or even challenging, providing they are respectful and conform to the rules and goals of this blog. Anything outside of that will be summarily deleted. Thank you.

Announcement from the Associate Editor: Christian has worked for more than one year to review, correct and update the whole contents of Pigtails in Paint: categories, tags and all posts. He still has to check the pages (see the menu under the banner at the top).

First, the categories and tags were reorganized and simplified to make searches easier and more efficient. Redundancy has been eliminated; there is no more overlap between tags and categories. Thus a “Tag Cloud” has been added to the right column to allow searching among the most frequent tags. The scope of existing tags has been extended (for instance “Feminism” instead of “Feminist Art” or “Parent and Child” instead of “Mother and Child”). New tags were created (for instance “Bigotry and Hysteria”, “Censorship” and “Destruction of Art”). There was a severe problem of tag duplication, with a single tag name corresponding to several distinct tags, each encoded differently in the system; the duplicates were removed, so posts needed to be retagged. For categories, the previous hierarchy (see here) was simplified from 7 groups to 4. The group “(C) Subject Themes & Special Presentations” and its categories were removed, since they are in fact covered by tags. The groups “(A) The Editors’ Journal / Maiden Voyages (Essays, Notes and Site Updates)” and “(D) Media” were merged into “(A) Topics”, with further categories added into it. The two groups “(E) Artists by Name” and “(F) Artists by DeviantArt Username or Similar Designation” were merged into “(C) Artists by Name or Username”. Some artists were included in both groups, by their name then by their username; in this case the two categories were merged under the form “Name (Username)”. The group “(G) Famous Girls in Art by Name” became “(D) Girls by Name”, so it grew by including “not famous” girls. Finally, the group “(B) Art Styles, Periods, Schools & Movements” did not change. This is true also in a negative sense: since Pip gave up the task of categorizing and tagging posts in November 2015, and Christian is not a specialist in art styles, all posts published since do not have any category from this group. We need an art style advisor to suggest new categories to include in this group, and to indicate art style categories to be assigned to posts dealing with art.

The biggest task was to review all posts for any type of defect or problem. This happened frequently with those from the first version of Pigtails in Paint hosted by WordPress (between February 2011 and September 2012): since the editors could not have a general backup of the site, individual posts had to be recreated by copying and pasting from various sources under varying formats, leading to frequent errors and inconsistencies. Some updates are indicated by an editor’s note: merging posts, adding images or providing better versions of them, answering queries about subjects or artists. But there was also a silent work of fixing a wide variety of problems: obviously updating categories and tags, correcting misprints and errors of language, repairing broken or dysfunctional hypertext links … but also badly positioned anchors for links, line breaks inside paragraphs, wrong vertical spacing, missing images, an image with a caption located to the right of it, images linking to other images or to web pages (normally every images links to its file, allowing thus to see it in its full size), parasitic code in the source file, normalizing the format of old comments manually copied from the WordPress version, etc.

Some previous errors may have been overlooked, or some new errors may have been introduced during the update, so if readers see any type of problem in a post, they can alert us, either by using the contact form in the ‘Contact Us’ page or by emailing Christian at the address shown here.

Flavie Flament Review: A reader informed me of an interesting review about Flament’s book accusing David Hamilton of sexual misconduct published shortly before he committed suicide.  You can read it here.

I would like to emphasize that I concur with Pip and add that not only lewd comments will be deleted, but simple frivolous comments and opinions about the beauty of the girls lacking any other substance will also be trashed.  In the case of legitimate comments of a sexual nature, such information and insights should be expressed in a clinical manner, again to emphasizing a respectful attitude.

I would like to offer my personal thanks to Christian for his diligent work the past couple of years.  The completion of his project means this site is more of an integrated whole than it has ever been since its inception.  I recall how relieved I felt when all the old lost posts from the first incarnation were finally replaced.  Other technical improvements to the site will be announced as each is put into place.  -Ron

Album Cover Art – Spring 2017 Edition

Time for some album art! In this batch we have some old stuff and some new stuff, with cover art from Black Sabbath, William Fitzsimmons, The Game, Tones on Tail and many others, so let’s get started.

Our first album cover is for a band we all know, Black Sabbath. This is the cover for their live Reunion album, and it is spectacular. First off, it sort of references the cover of Ozzy’s solo album No Rest for the Wicked. But beyond that, I just love these demon toddlers (probably portrayed by the same model) with their little cloven hooves and tiny wings. That, along with the fact that they’re girls, makes them anti-cherubs, I think. The cover was designed by Glen Wexler, who also did the cover for Van Halen’s Balance that I profiled several years ago (and that Wexler himself commented on). You could almost say this is a counterpart cover to Balance. It may just be my favorite Black Sabbath cover now. Well, it’s a tossup between this and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (front and back), beautifully illustrated by Drew Struzan.

Glen Wexler – Black Sabbath – Reunion (cover)

Glen Wexler Studio (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Glen Wexler

Our next cover is for Relative Ash’s Our Time with You. I really know nothing about this band other than that they formed in the mid-90s and are said to sound something like Deftones (I haven’t listened to them). They seem to have put out this one album and then broken up. If anyone has more info about the band, this album cover or its creator, you are welcome to comment on it. I like the simplicity and the Pandora’s Box symbolism here.

Photographer Unknown – Relative Ash – Our Time with You (cover)

Here are a couple of covers for albums by singer-songwriter William Fitzsimmons. The first featured album, Until When We Are Ghosts, was his debut. An interesting factoid about Fitzsimmons: both of his parents, who were also musicians, were blind.

Photographer Unknown – William Fitzsimmons – Until When We Are Ghosts (cover)

I really love this next cover though. The little equestrienne in her dressage jacket and bowler derby is certainly adorable. The album itself is actually the second of two albums that are thematically linked, with each one being about one of Fitzsimmons’s grandmothers. The sad tale of the singer’s father and his father’s mother (the subject of this album) is recounted on Fitzsimmons’s website if you want to read it. You can find it here.

Photographer Unknown – William Fitzsimmons – Charleroi: Pittsburgh Vol. 2 (cover)

Now here’s an album with a cover featuring the childhood countenances of three well-known country-pop singers, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton, just in case you ever wondered what they looked like as little girls. By the way, if you aren’t aware of it, the young Dolly has been portrayed (wonderfully, I think) by Alyvia Alyn Lind in two made-for-television movies as of this post.

Artist Unknown – Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton – Trio II (cover)

Tones on Tail was a side project of Bauhaus guitarist Daniel Ash that only lasted a couple of years but nevertheless put out several singles, three EPs and one LP, that being this album, Pop. The cover depicts a nude toddler girl balancing upon a wall near the woods, but there is something not quite right about her face/head. It almost looks like she is wearing a mask and wig combo, or at least a wig. That hair just does not look real. If it is, it’s a really horrible haircut. That, combined with the darkness of the trees in the background, invest the image with an undeniable creepiness. The photographer of the image is listed on Wikipedia (and presumably in the album’s notes) as Mr. Atlas, which makes sense I suppose, as he probably didn’t want t be identified for taking a nude photo of a child in the woods.

Mr. Atlas – Tones on Tail – Pop (cover)

And speaking of toddlers with things on their head, our next album cover shows a little girl wearing some kind of warrior’s helmet in addition to her pink princess dress and pink tennis shoes. The album is Take It Like a Man by the Butcher Babies, a heavy metal band fronted by two female vocalists. Obviously the masculine helmet is intended to contrast with the girlishness of the dress and, well . . . the girl herself.

Photographer Unknown – Butcher Babies – Take It Like a Man (cover)

Blood Moon: Year of the Wolf is a compilation album by rapper The Game. I don’t really know much about The Game or this album, but I really liked the cover, with its sassy little girl in red showing a big bad wolf who’s boss. Now, what ever could that be a reference to? 😉

Photographer Unknown – The Game – Blood Moon: Year of the Wolf (cover)

Our next cover is for Unknown Mortal Orchestra‘s single release SB-03, the third in an ongoing series of psychedelic instrumental tracks released by the band every Christmas. The cover was created by Jenny Nielson, front man Ruban Nielson’s wife. The child in the photo may be herself when she little or someone else entirely. I really don’t know, but I like her creative flair nonetheless.

Jenny Nielson – Unknown Mortal Orchestra – SB-03 (single cover)

Anders Osborne is singer-songwriter heavily influenced by the blues. All of his output so far has been released on small labels, most of them specializing in blues and jazz music. Little kids flipping off the camera is nothing new to the internet, but I think this is the first time I’ve actually seen it as an official piece of art, in this case for Osborne’s album Peace.

Photographer Unknown – Anders Osborne – Peace (cover)

Our penultimate album cover is actually the first in a whole series of anthology albums collecting lesser known late sixties pop music. The album series features the exact same artwork, only each one is rendered in different colors. At a guess, I would say the original illustration came from the pen of Aubrey Beardsley, but try as I might, I was unable to confirm that. So, as with most of these, the artist will have to remain unidentified for now.

Artist Unknown – Piccadilly Sunshine, Part One (cover)

And last but certainly not least is this beautifully illustrated cover for Robin Crutchfield‘s Into the Dark Wood. Crutchfield is one of those peculiar souls who has been quietly making his own sort of art and music on the fringes for decades, influencing many but never quite becoming as well-known as those who came after. He began as a performance artist which soon transitioned into music, and then, along with his band DNA, he became one of the pioneers of the avante-garde musical movement known as No Wave. Eventually he began making music eerily similar to (but not quite) Medieval music, of which Into the Dark Wood is his latest. The cover art, I’m quite certain, is by some Victorian fairy artist, though I’ve been unable to pin down who. My hunch is Edward Robert Hughes, but again I was not able to confirm it. I would really love to know who created this piece, so if anyone out there is willing to research this more thoroughly I would be eternally grateful. I would love to feature the original image here, especially if I can get a larger one online somewhere.

Artist Unknown – Robin Crutchfield – Into the Dark Wood (cover)

Concerning the New Banner Design

It is my understanding that some people do not like the new banner/header design, with a specific complaint being that the little girl is a terrible artist. This, to me, is rather beside the point. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but children on the whole are not terribly accomplished artists. In fact, the messiness of her writing, and the fact that she clearly takes pride in it anyway, is, I think, far more characteristic of what children are like, and therefore a better reflection of what Pigtails represents. I know there may be some tendency among certain followers of our site to romanticize young girls. That’s fine to a point, and we have certainly not eschewed art that falls along those lines, but that is not, and never has been, the point of Pigtails in Paint. Before I say more, I would like to take the opportunity to post what I have said in private to Ron with respect to the new banner:

I rather like the idea that the title is not immediately legible and that it takes a few seconds of work to make it out. That will make it more memorable, since people must actively engage with it instead of just glossing over it. Which, I think, is a fundamental reflection of what good art is about, so the banner better represents what our site is. There are layers to it. It would be easy to make it all very pretty and simple—that’s how my earliest banners looked—but girls aren’t just pretty and simple, and that’s the point. The title reflects that they can be rough around the edges sometimes, but to me that adds to their charm. And it’s one thing to have a simple design when you’re just starting out, but we’ve hopefully moved beyond that. We are a well-established site now, and we’ve been through a lot. The new banner I think captures that complexity. The girl has made her mark, so to speak, and it cuts against the status quo, violates the simply ornamental. Like our girl (maybe we should give our mascot a name), we have made a mark, and we did so on our own terms. Anyone could post images that are simply pleasing and non-challenging—what we’re doing is exploring aspects of girlhood that much of society would rather we didn’t. There have been several attempts to silence our voice, but we didn’t let that stop us, did we?

That is the philosophical basis for the new design. I think it is a respectable goal for us to move past the pleasingly ornamental, which can be equated with vapidity, sentimentality and triviality. We are an art blog, and art takes many forms, not all of them immediately pleasant to the eye. As an artist myself, I know that the best art is often initially challenging to the viewer. That being said, a banner must first and foremost be functional. If it does not convey the information it is meant to convey, then it fails. Some followers of the site have expressed that the ‘Pigtails in Paint’ lettering is much too difficult to read, particularly for those viewers for whom English is not their first language, and that is problematic.

Thus, I will alter the banner design in the next few days to make the lettering more legible. I will not redesign the entire banner, or stray too far from the original concept—I stand by that. I will, however, try to make the lettering more legible to Pigtail’s readers, including our foreign fans. The new banner should be completed sometime before this coming weekend. Thank you. – Pip