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image icon 'Tattooed lady', 1974

'Tattooed lady', 1974
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a painted clay sculpture made in 1974 by Bert Flugelman (1923-). Measuring 116 cm x 84 cm x 46 cm, the work is in the shape a figure of a nude woman standing with her hands on her hips and staring straight ahead. The figure is truncated just above the knees and at the upper part of the head. The proportions of the figure, particularly the waist and hips, are highly exaggerated. In contrast to her three-dimensional arms, her hands have been drawn onto the figure. Her entire body is covered with tattoo-like illustrations in rich colour which depict Japanese couples engaged in sexual activity. Some of these figures are completely naked, while others wear traditional Japanese clothing.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a work by Bert Flugelman, who as an artist and teacher has made a significant contribution to Australian art and sculpture - Flugelman emigrated from Vienna to Australia in 1938 and studied art at Sydney’s National Art School and East Sydney Technical College (1947-50); from 1951 to 1955 he lived in Europe and the USA, before returning to Sydney, where he lectured at the National Art School (1961-72), and then at the South Australian School of Art (1973-83); originally a figurative Expressionist painter, from the late 1960s Flugelman began transferring his attention to working in three dimensions; by the early 1970s he was producing sculptures in a wide range of media, including clay and metal; his sculptural practice has continued to offer intellectually challenging and often amusing or ironic insights into the nature of art and its traditions, as well as reflecting intense pleasure in exploring the potential of ideas, forms and techniques; during the late 1970s to early 1980s Flugelman established a national profile with large stainless-steel public artworks which included two Adelaide-sited works 'Tetrahedra' (at the Adelaide Festival Centre), and 'Spheres' (in Rundle Mall)
  • is one of a series of large figurative clay sculptures made by Flugelman in the late 1960s to early 1970s - this series of hand-built clay female forms marked the emergence of a new attitude in his work; his sculptural works, of cast concrete or bronze and stone carving, made across the 1960s were seriously heroic in concept, process and scale; from 1968 he began making a series of six welded steel junk sculptures that expressed a more whimsical and humorous approach to art-making, as did his coil pottery female torso figures, which first appeared in 1969
  • is a major work within the coil clay torso series - 'Tattooed lady' is a reworking of an earlier work, 'Joyous echo', a coiled clay torso work of a similar size; that sculpture is an Indian-style sculpture of a sinuously curved goddess or dancer figure; the figure is covered with scenes which mimic various sexual positions of the Kamasutra
  • is characteristic of Flugelman's sometimes humorous approach to making art - a feature of Flugelman's sculptural practice is that it is not easily defined and often uses humour to challenge the viewer to see anything 'serious' in the work; the decoration on the figure is clearly sourced from Japanese culture but the figure is a satirical take on an 'old master' Western art formula for female beauty; the 16th-century Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was famous for his paintings of very curvaceous female figures, from which the term 'Rubenesque' has evolved; to have such a Rubenesque figure with a trendy 1970s 'afro' hairstyle all covered in gangster tattoos that depict acts of an explicit sexual nature is clearly meant to look incongruous and make an anti-traditional-art gesture
  • expresses one aspect of the artist's attitude to making art - Flugelman has said of these works, 'Making these objects is a hobby of mine. They are whimsies. I coil my memories'; Flugelman uses visual imagery from Japanese ukiyo-e art of the 17th to 20th centuries that drew its subjects from popular culture and flourished in the urban centres of Edo (modern-day Tokyo), Osaka and Kyoto; the characteristic colourful and flat design style of the ukiyo-e woodblock print is evident in the designs on this figure
  • references 'shunga' (Japanese, meaning 'picture of spring') - in a traditional context 'spring' is a euphemism for sex; shunga was a type of ukiyo-e produced for a popular market; while sometimes officially banned, most of the acknowledged masters of Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints produced shunga prints; such prints were usually sold in albums as sex manuals; the all-over tattoos on the sculpture creates the improbable image of a figure papered over with shunga prints
  • references yakuza - yakuza are traditionally organised crime groups in Japan; extensive body tattooing is a characteristic of yakuza culture and was traditionally regarded as a sign of strength and group affiliation; it was not unusual for yakuza members to have full torso tattoos, often described as body murals; tattooing is a very old tradition in Japan and is associated with complex codes of social organisation and behaviour; within Japan the naked body is not necessarily the erotic trigger, as is often the case in Western cultures, but rather it is the layering and selective revealing of the body through the arrangement of clothing and, at times, tattooing
  • reflects contemporary trends to emerge in the crafts in Australia in the 1970s and into the 1980s - the decorative arts (including ceramics) have traditionally been associated with function; ceramics was the first craft medium to challenge this tradition; some artists did so by making clay sculptures that were intended to amuse or express social or political concerns; this style of art was called funk art or funk ceramics; the irreverent humour of 'Tattooed lady' is characteristic of a loosely defined Adelaide art movement of the early 1970s dubbed 'Skangaroovian Funk', which was characterised by an anti-art, anti-establishment attitude.