COSPLAY BY DAVID HANCOCK
COSPLAY by DAVID HANCOCK – HOWDEN PARK CENTRE, LIVINGSTON. 20TH February – 5th April 2015
Cosplay can be described as a type of performance art in which “cosplayers” wear costumes to represent a character thus creating an interactive sub-culture based on role-play. Subjects are mostly sourced from Manga cartoons, comic books, video games and live-action films. A selection of Manchester artist David Hancock’s paintings of cosplayers are currently on show at Howden Park Centre in Livingston. Hancock works in watercolour and pencil crayon to create photo-realist portraits of people and characters involved in this complex and increasingly popular activity.
Hancock’s engagement with the subject is best explained by the artist himself. Cathy Bell asked him some questions about his work
C.B. Who chooses the pose the characters adopt?
D.H. The cosplayers generally do. They are based on the poses of the characters they represent. It is a way of getting them into character; re-enacting their mannerisms. In the larger paintings, I ask the cosplayers to find an environment where the character would feel comfortable.
C.B. In the double portraits are the characters interacting with each other?
D.H. The characters are from the same text so there is a relationship between them and being paired strengthens their immersion. In Advent Children I positioned the models on either side of a small lake. I try to leave as much white space as possible to suggest how locations and objects drift in and out of the fantasy.
C.B. Is it only the dressing up that interests you about the sitters or are you interested in them out of character as well? For example, the painting The Down (Siobhan & Courtney) seems to show two women who are not in cosplay costumes.
D.H. I only depict cosplayers when they are in “cos”. In The Down they are in cos: however, the characters are the cosplayers own characters that they have created themselves, which is maybe why they look different from some of the others.
C.B. Another thing I detect from the work is the gender aspects within it. For example, some of the females are posed kneeling, teetering on the edge and in the case of Resident Evil the girl is shown hiding and terrified under a table. The males on the other hand seem stronger. There are some stronger looking females too and in the case of Advent Children III it is difficult to say whether I am looking at two men, two women or a man and a woman. Is this deliberate?
D.H. I think this is more to do with the characters. What is interesting about cosplay is that it is so female centric, it is estimated that 80-90% of cosplayers are female. From my research, a large number of females I have interviewed are in a same-sex relationship. For many women, the way female characters are represented in games and sci-fi films is unrepresentative. Cosplay, therefore, allows females to re-imagine the objects of their fandom in their own image, removed from the objectifying male gaze.
C.B. Do some of the large paintings have deeper meanings than the small portrait heads, for example?
D.H. Yes, I am able to play with the surface of the paint more. I use the drips to mark the difference between the reality and fantasy in the cosplayer’s world.
C.B. Is it important to you to document the current trend of cosplay?
D.H. I am interested in how cosplay goes beyond other subcultures in building an identity. Cosplayers are able to take on a whole other persona and “road test” it; literally taking on the characters characteristics and trying them out.
C.B. I feel the paintings are sociologically relevant to the times. Do you agree and is this what you want from them?
D.H. What is interesting about cosplay is that it takes archaic practices, such as making costumes and props, and uses these to represent our immersivity into digital platforms. They also bring these interactions back into the actual world, and their primary social interactions are in person, face-to-face. It’s almost a seamless merging of the digital and analogue.
ADVENT CHILDREN (TOP IMAGE), THE DOWN (BOTTOM IMAGE)
As previously reported in an article (ArtWork Issue 208 May/June 2019) one of the aims of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Association in Roussillon in France is to promote the life and work of CRM with an educational programme for young people. This being the case, the custodians of the CRM interpretation centre at Port Vendres were delighted to welcome Matis Leggiadro when he requested to visit the centre. President of the Association Michele Grau recalls that “the centre was contacted by fifteen-year-old Matis founder of the Histal M website who already knew about CRM through his grandmother who lives near Port Vendres.” She adds “his project is to design an internet tool allowing all types of audiences to encounter art, heritage, architecture and history”
Matis’ hometown is the historical city of Albi (a UNESCO listed city and birthplace of Henri de Toulouse Lautrec) in south western France. As a student of History of the Arts at the Laperouse High School in Albi he has a mature interest in art history which led him to launch his Histal M project which is concerned with the democratization of history and art. He states “ history is a game of relay. The heritage reached us allows us to design today and tomorrow. And why not by art”? Histal M is a multi-media project including a website, YouTube channel, radio station, Instagram and various other projects such as exhibitions and conferences. For his young age Matis has accomplished a lot such as the promotion of contemporary architecture which earned him an invitation to the 21st International Architecture Film event being held in Annecy in November 2020 where his film about the Jean Jaures d’ Albi college was chosen to be shown. It is no surprise that he has set his ambition high, hoping one day to become the Chief Curator of Heritage at the Ecole du Louvre.
Whilst in Port Vendres in 2019 Matis discovered the Hotel du Commerce where the Mackintoshes’ had lived and became interested to know more about their work. He wanted to do a report on Mackintosh whom he considers to be “one of the only artists whose work can be described as iconic “. Thinking that CRM’s work is too little known in France prompted him to visit the centre in July 2020. He set about making a short film about Mackintosh which aims to be clear and understandable and which will highlight “this immense artist and the CRM Association in Roussillon”. With his report and film, he hopes that he has found an effective way to pass on knowledge and information to a wider audience of both children and adults alike who might not have heard of Mackintosh. Michele Grau states that she was “struck by this teenager’s curiosity and with his great maturity. We decide without hesitation to support his cultural project”. Matis believes that the interpretation centres in Roussillon have an invaluable role in promoting the work of CRM saying that the centre in Port Vendres has allowed him to “understand the artist’s personality and his relationship with France”. He states that the centre, for him, is “the best place in France to discover Mackintosh because one feels his trace, the sea and his soul in a way”.
N.B. Please note that this article although not published in the UK appears on the website of the CRM Association in Roussillon -
Matis also paints as he feels it is important to paint in order to better understand the artist's approach.
The Royal Academy in London is currently showing an exhibition entitled Matisse in the Studio (5th August-12th November 2017) which explores Henri Matisse’s relationship with a collection of objects he used in his paintings. The actual objects are on display alongside works they feature in. There has been mixed critical response to the exhibition, some critics are taken by the idea, for example, one likens a large Spanish vase to “a tough Andalusian woman”. Others believe that Matisse’s artistry has been swallowed up by bric-a-brac, wondering unfairly why in 1942 he was more interested in a Venetian chair than he was in the war going on around him. This forgets the fact that during this time Matisse was recovering from a serious illness, the critic does have a point, however, when they suggest that the theme explored “is at best a footnote in the history of art”.
During the time of his recovery Matisse made the acquaintance of a young woman called Monique Bourgeois who became his nurse. They became close friends, it was this genuine friendship that was the catalyst for the creation of the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence located in a small town in southern France. Matisse stayed in the town while he convalesced, it is where he and Monique’s paths crossed over a number of years. Their friendship was tested when Monique became a nun much to the disappointment of Matisse, he was not a religious man and had misgivings about Monique’s decision. However, their friendship was strong enough so when Sister Jacques Marie (as she became known) was staying across the street from him in a Dominican rest home they continued to see one another.
A moving film directed by Barbara Freer shows Sister Jacques Marie in her later years discussing her relationship with Matisse and recounting how the chapel came to be built. She reveals that she showed the artist a small sketch she had designed to one day hopefully become a stained glass window in a much needed chapel, at the time they were using an old garage. This idea stayed with Matisse and became the nucleus for the creation of the chapel which would be designed entirely by him. The project was not without controversy with objections coming from some of those inside the church, Matisse was not considered a suitable choice to create a holy building, he was a non-believer and his art was suspect in their eyes. Nevertheless, the Chapelle du Rosaire was consecrated in 1951, according to Matisse it was a “shared project” between himself and Sister Jacques Marie. Visiting the chapel one wonders, therefore, why Sister Jacques Marie’s window was never included, Matisse has been quoted as saying that the chapel had “imperfections”, perhaps this is one of them? However, it is clear that Matisse broke new ground in his art in the chapel. He designed stained glass windows, three minimal murals and an altar, he used the colour reflected in the glass from the windows to create coloured patterns of light on the plain white tiled walls. It has been described as a project in which art and faith connect and there is no doubt that, even if not driven by religious piety, it was a labour of love by Matisse. The artist has declared the chapel to be his masterpiece and there seems no reason to disagree.
This brings me back to the exhibition at the RA which could be viewed as misleading regarding what Matisse left behind in terms of an art historical legacy. As already stated, Matisse considered the chapel as his masterpiece, therefore, in the artist’s opinion, this was his best work. It would seem that with the chapel in Vence Matisse started anew from a different standpoint, he seems to have obliterated all previous desire to depict objects, this is a work devoid of materialist concerns, this is a spiritual leap into a world without extraneous things. That is why the RA exhibition seems unnecessary, by lionising “mere props” with curatorial zeal they are making something out of nothing. Matisse it would seem, at the end of his life, wanted to keep things simple so why distort art historical principles by drawing attention to the objectified world he seemed to want to leave behind, how can you make a blockbuster exhibition out of a footnote in art history?