One cannot answer this question as it stands, because every sculptor or painter has his own perspective. I see women first of all with the eyes of a man. So how does a man see women? One way of answering this is from a roughly schematic standpoint: hips, legs, breasts, face. Or face and then the rest. Desire, i.e. needing, craving, wanting, direct the eye. Love, being in love, has a different look than sexual longing, although one probably does not fall in love if physical satisfaction is not possible. So sexual attraction, which is of course a physical attraction, plays a roll. The face, too, is physical, although it is also the transmitter of the spiritual and the intellectual. Also the face is surface, i.e. skin, complexion, physical characteristics: teeth, lips, the gleam of the eye, delicacy, tenderness, vitality, all this is alluring to our senses. I associate sensuality or tenderness and warm-heartedness with the face, also challenge, longing, wanting to be desired, all of these are evident in the face and it has therefore perhaps an even stronger sensual allure than the rest of the body with its primary and secondary sexual characteristics. Sometimes it is a smile, sometimes the voice, that is associated with a certain face. Sounds are the province of the ear and not the eye, and yet something of this must be discernible in a good portrait. In whatever face or body the sculptor is making a portrait of, something of all that model's experiences must be perceptible. Then there is the woman who is without a face for the man who desires her, because the all-too-personal, a character, is expressed in the face and diverts the man from his desire, which is for the body alone, - yes, even a hand is too much, for it is an agent of the individual will.
There is a contradiction in the model whose body radiates a sexual challenge, but whose face rebuffs every approach that the body invites. All of this is pertinent to the question: "How does a sculptor see a woman?" Actually, the only thing I can say to such a question is what I feel myself and what I have seen in sculptors whose works I know. For instance, with Michelangelo, quietness and contemplation - it may even be that men acted as models for the women in the Medici chapel. The breasts look like they have simply been attached, added to the athletic figures, yet the deep sleep, what an erotic absorption, a dreaming within oneself, or the dawn, what an awakening, what an emergence in the face! Then there are the heavy women of Maillol, especially the clay models in a charming pose, or the dignity of the torsi. Then Rodin, tormented by the sensual aura of the women he sculpted. Then ancient sculpture, especially one in particular which I saw, done by an anonymous artist, moreover, whose name we do not know, a nude girl, parts of which have broken off, but the piece that I saw in a museum in Turkey is wonderful. She had rolled up a part of her garment and placed it under her armpit. She was sweating from the heat and was drying her underarm in this manner. In this sculpture, one can still see today the way a woman who lived more than 2,000 years ago carried out a small and charming gesture, the way she relieved a momentary discomfort. Or one sees the wind, how it blew over 2,000 years ago, pressing women's garments against their bodies, as is the case in the wonderful Nike of Samothrace. One can view this beauty in the Louvre in Paris. Stylized sculptures of women do not interest me. I do not sculpt in order to be a sculptor, but rather to capture the enchantment of a woman, the enchantment of an expression, of a movement, and snatch it from the moment of passing away. Twice I have had a moving experience in Greece, or should I add to that another time when I observed for an hour or more a woman lying in the sun, motionless, as she acquired a tan. I saw only her body, her face was turned away; the only movement in this heavy resting body were the hairs on her mons veneris, shimmering in the sun like quivering golden wires, and the long yellow hair as it lay over her averted face, tugged and whisked to and fro by the wind like a flickering flame. Tranquillity, peace, and passively endured wild turbulence, that was a sculpture that hovered in my mind, even before I saw this. But I became conscious of it in that moment.
Then there is the sight of a desirable model, for without the desire, there is for me no emotive art. Then there is the sight of the model while working. The man's interest must disappear while I track down the lines and shapes which make up the wonder of a female body. Here, perhaps, I am seeing more clearly than a man who only has an average ability to perceive. It is the trained, practiced eye, one without desire, that I can turn on like a light switch. I flick it on and activate the inner current of heightened perception. It is like picking up a tool. Yes, the tool itself is this switch; as soon as I pick it up, I am a different person. My eye becomes colder, the emotional intensity of a beautiful moment is frozen, I search for the line, the cause. But without the fascination which preceded it, nothing would happen.
Translated from the German by Lynne Kvinnesland.
Copyright 1999 Museum of European Art