Exhibited: Johannesburg. Graham’s Fine Art Gallery. 29 May – 29 August 2008. “The Modern Palimpsest: Envisioning South African Modernity”.
Illustrated: Graham’s Fine Art Gallery. 2008. The Modern Palimpsest: Envisioning South African Modernity. Graham’s Fine Art Gallery, Johannesburg. p. 122 & 123
It is hard to imagine a more down-to-earth title than Fat Lady, and the title gives no indication of the melancholic figure that Esmonde-White has depicted. The sensuality of the Fat Lady is reinforced both by the use of non-naturalistic colour and a monumentality of form.
The figure is monumental because she occupies just about all of the picture space. The background is incidental, acting to push the figure forward onto the picture plane. In Fat Lady there is a stronger contrast between the sitter’s skin and her dress. The monumentality of the figure is surprising given that there is very little volumetric modelling in the form of the body.
There is a tension in the painting between the psychological and the simplified form of the sitter. Esmonde-White has conveyed the particular state of mind of the subject. The melancholic expression and gesture of the sitter – although stripped down to minimal detail – suggest a wistful sadness, which the viewer can read despite the lack of detail. Esmonde-White has pared down the facial expression to its simplest detail yet somehow captures the pathos of the Fat Lady.