In Federico Fellini’s film The Temptation of Dr Antonio a giant woman steps out of a billboard and roams the streets of an Italian city. As with all oversized beings in films, such as Godzilla, Gulliver in Gulliver’s Travels, this female character is forced to wander alone and aimlessly in a world that is too small for her to fit in to. She can’t inhabit a home, a bed, a chair and due to her extreme size is both a threat and an oddity to be scrutinised. Her fate is horribly paradoxical in that she is lonely but never truly alone - she is too large to hide from sight.
The oversized female figures that dominate John Michael Metelerkamp’s Keeper series, showing at the Candice Berman gallery, embody and challenge this theme. His large female figures are twins; so while they are forever adrift from the small world they inhabit they have each other. This keeps them bound closely, though almost in an unnatural way. Their naked bodies are so intertwined you can’t detect whose limbs belong to whom. This is particularly the case in Keeper’s 2, where legs, arms are twisted and splayed in all different directions, enhancing this idea that they are on display, are being dissected. They could be an exhibit in a museum as they appear trapped, pinned in position with their naked bodies on view.
It is the presence of small little stick figures in black and white scattered around the scene and on their bodies in the Keepers series that drive home the unusual scale of their physiques. Are they too small, or are the twins too big? The theme forces us to consider what is normal. We can’t see any details of the miniature characters because they are presumably too small to be rendered. As such they look like little cartoon characters. They move around the giant twins bodies as if they are territories to be explored.
The recurring giant twins in the Keepers series aren’t only on display but also appear to be fixated in looking out, observing the world around them via their double faces. This is captured in a duplication of their silhouettes that floats like a bubble attached to their heads.
You could read all sorts of things into Metelerkamps female nudes that recall Picasso’s cubist works. They could be portraits of celebrities constantly on display, their bodies scrutinised. Perhaps due to their stature they can no longer fit into society without escaping notice. The little figures that climb over and around them, could be ‘ordinary’ women, who consume their images and envy their bodies, know them intimately.
These are interesting paintings that appear familiar via this cubist style vibe, though Metelerkamp’s roughshod rendition of the female nude feels fresh. It is hard to think of male artists willing to tackle the female nude evincing such an awareness of their objectification. His art is intriguing and interesting with an unexpected quirky sense of humour. Perhaps it is the looming emancipation of women he grapples with here; the larger than life figure who threatens to fit into a world that is not yet ready for her. STORY FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE TIMES