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Obsession and Fantasy
The Intimate Journey of Frederic Taubes


On The Beach, 1965, oil on canvas, 20 x 26 in. 
Frederic Taubes had an intimate affair with the female anatomy. He engaged the female figure until its axiomatic principles became his second nature. Taubes‚Äô familiarity with the supple lines of the female form is a reflection of his familiarity with the flesh.
Intimacy between human beings is discovered through carnal knowledge. It is our strongest bonding agent and a direct link to our deepest and most primordial instincts to procreate and survive. Intimacy is familiarity, a taking of possession. Once acquired, intimacy can turn into obsession.
Frederic Taubes became obsessed with the female figure. His deepest sexual urges surfaced as a need to always demonstrate far greater familiarity with the female form. By showing his mastery over form, he could claim dominion over the flesh.
Taubes treated his inventory of women as a sheik with his harem. Each are allotted their space, but none are allowed beyond. Movements are restricted and must conform to the will of the master‚Äôs plan. If Taubes desired a contortionist, he summoned one.
When in doubt of the propriety of his subject, Taubes always returned to his intimate knowledge of anatomy. Anatomically unwarranted distortions were exiled. Finding virtue only in perfection, Taubes established for himself and unending and perhaps unattainable task‚ÄĒdiscovering a variation that somehow equaled or surpassed the original.
Painting became the playground for Taubes‚Äô sexual fantasies. Each new model was a conquest, each conquest a renewal for higher expectations. In the end, it was an obsession that could never be satisfied, a destination that could never be reached. The road was well traveled during Taubes‚Äô journey and he opened many new frontiers, but only because he passed through doors opened by others.

The female form is humankind‚Äôs oldest and most enduring cultural symbol. It is a symbol of fertility and procreation; of the continuation of life. The earliest tribal fetishes are a celebration of life‚Äôs generative powers. They were conceived as a means to unlock and domesticate the powers hidden in nature.
All Art in some way reveals this constant battle between the natural order and the order imposed by the mind. Each seeks to mimic and supplant the other. The mind presumes that, ‚Äúreason,‚ÄĚ is in some way a facsimile of nature; a world where everything is, ‚Äúright.‚ÄĚ Nature, in its turn, leaves its indelible imprint on the mind as the irreducible source of all our knowledge and understanding.
The battle between nature and the mind is not one of victories and defeats. It is a journey. Its perilous course was charted during the Greco-Roman epoch during which a profound transformation took place within the human mind‚ÄĒthe sublimation of humankind‚Äôs communal animalistic past, and the triumph of human individuality. The female form makes its most astounding appearance during this time. The sculptures of classical Greece are monuments commemorating the struggle. The process of idealization eliminated the particularities of the individual and reveals the universal characteristics germane to all.
During the Christian era, (which reaches into modern times) the female figure became shrouded in guilt. Eve was the promulgator of original sin. Our natural instincts were no longer a unifying agent but something to be suppressed. The female form would remain concealed for half a millennium.
During these, ‚Äúdark,‚ÄĚ years, monotheism became humankind‚Äôs new source of unification. Monotheism is a vivid reminder of what was left behind at the beginning of the journey‚ÄĒunequivocal unity. This trend found its most dire expression in the Islamic revolt against idolatry, in which the female figure was all but extinguished from society. 


Seated Figure, 1966, oil on canvas, 36 x 24 in. 
However, the journey continued, and during the Renaissance the individual made a stunning comeback. Michelangelo best exemplifies the power of the individual to assert itself against the normative powers. Humanism returned the figure to the pedestal that it had occupied in antiquity.
By the seventeenth century, the figure, and particularly the nude female, had become the symbol of a changing attitude toward the world. Ruben‚Äôs ample bosomed ladies were indicative of worldly success. Watteau‚Äôs powder puffed coquettes were baubles of clandestine love. What these artists failed to comprehend, (and what makes their work that much more important) was that they were expressing the underlying moral dilemma of the time‚ÄĒa class society in which one‚Äôs place was inescapable.
The stark reality of feminine nudity makes its appearance in the nineteenth century. Courbet removed the figure from the ridiculous context in which it was lodged‚ÄĒa feigned virginal promise of redemption. The new reality was one of individuals increasingly isolated from one another. In humankind‚Äôs hapless journey to find community and meaning, the female figure became the focus of supreme veneration.
Picasso, whose sexual exploits are today part legend, part self-mythology, became the floodgate of a new artistic expression‚ÄĒevery individual was in its own right a god. Consummate with his talents, Picasso created the largest harem of all. Even the lowly and hackneyed became lionized. It is not a coincidence, but a historical congruence, that Picasso painted a new cultural morality at the same time that Freud was unlocking the imprisoned mysteries of the mind.
None of these cultural symbols were created by a conscious and deliberate act on the part of the artist. They emerge from the deep sub-strata of the mind. Michelangelo‚Äôs revolt against the conventions of his time was an effect of his powerful individuality asserting itself in the name of freedom. Picasso‚Äôs veneration of every feminine form was a stand against the repressive Victorian standards of his time. Prior to being artistic expressions, these artworks cry out for the gratification of hidden desires.
The women of Frederic Taubes underwent a radical process of idealization. They went from being women, to being every woman. Casual and accidental appearances erode until what remained was the essence of femininity. Taubes‚Äô attitude toward women is completely non-prejudicial. Every woman can be a beautiful lover.
Taubes‚Äô women also went through the process of mannerism. Hips became concentric. The neck was elongated. These devices were employed aesthetically to create balance and rhythms.  What they produced were statements of empowerment.
Taubes‚Äô women are not specific individuals. In sociological terms, he painted members of, The Lonely Crowd. Each member in modern society is essential an anonymous cog in an apparatus, easily replaced by another. However, these women are real, occupying real space and confronting the world with their presence. It is the formidability of the figures themselves that create their reality.
The figures achieve their strength by being both appropriate and suggestive. An ambiguity of contour allows the imagination to indulge in fantasies and speculation. In like manner, the ambiguity opens the door to a universe of phenomenological possibilities.
Taubes created a world where men need not apply. His paintings are populated by a race of Amazons‚ÄĒ completely self-sufficient. When a male figure does appear, it is as a painter seeking guidance from his female muse. Taubes became so enmeshed in his fantasy about women that he could not longer precede without their counsel. Consumed by his mania to exercise domination over his women, be finally fell victim to their wiles and ways.
Taubes would never have called himself a feminist. He too was unaware of the unconscious drama that was unfolding in his work. He worked to produce a more perfect world because the world he found did not live up to his standards. It is a world where women rule.
This new world was a product of Taubes‚Äô adversarial approach. He needed to conquer in order to satisfy his instinctual needs. Each victory created a new and stronger opponent. Gratification was achieved in the act, not in the aftermath. With the loss of his physical stamina, the battle ended in stalemate. Taubes lay down his weapons and knelt before the indomitable images that he had created.
Frederic Taubes painted a new icon of women in the twenty-first century‚ÄĒstrong, invincible, and free. They have broken the bonds that prevented them from being anything but domesticated playthings. All worldly trappings have vanished. Their freedom was not granted, but wrestled from the very jaws of authority. Taubes did not bestow their power, he only brought to light what was already there. Taubes set out to establish dominion over the flesh. What he created was a new ideal, a new mythology to inspire those who will continue the journey.
Timothy Taubes
Obsession and Fantasy
Essay by
Timothy Taubes

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