On the Art of Punkrockbigmouth III: Foreshortened Dynamism

This is the third installment of a five part series called On The -isms of Punkrockbigmouth. Check the first two here and here.

Whereas PRBM’s crosshatching and impressionism are astute stylistic choices for her medium and subject, foreshortening is a very practical technique that bring the art of wrestling’s action and physicality into a visual space in such a way that allows a fast-moving tangle of bodies to be visually comprehensible. An object is foreshortened when it is depicted with less length than it actually has, which in PRBM’s use allows wrestling’s action between the ropes to be seen clearly. Think about how hard it is to frame a clear photographic shot of an in-ring wrestling maneuver—you’re generally looking at the elevated ring scene from a lower, problematic angle, and the ropes cut across the view in an often visually unpleasing way. It’s also hard to understand the complex visual still image of, say, a Huricanarana or a Koji Clutch in a two dimensional depiction: bodies are upended and at weird angles, sometimes airborne, and the limbs of the participants crank and flail in all directions. Foreshortened dynamism is how I describe PRBM’s skilled use of foreshortening, so that her in-ring action images are clear and functional, as well as fitting into an aesthetically pleasing frame.

It’s not a given that an artist masters foreshortening, and it isn’t always easy to achieve. There was a time when artists were still getting the hang of foreshortening. Consider this early Renaissance effort:

It’s Paolo Uccello, bless his heart, and his painting is from a triptych called The Battle of San Romano, circa 1438. Look at this guy lying on the ground. Look how awkward he is:

He looks like some growth-stunted Lord of the Rings character. It’s because the foreshortening is ass-backwards. Literally. Uccello was a master of perspective for his time, but this was one of his failed experiments. Note the difference in precise foreshortening here in a PRBM piece called Yay! Confetti!:

Roman is rolling pitifully in the confetti that had been meant to celebrate his 2015 Survivor Series championship win over Dean Ambrose, but which became ironic and sad when Sheamus cashed in his Money In the Bank briefcase for the win immediately following Roman’s victory. Roman’s body appears with almost no length as it extends directly back into space. His upper left arm is also foreshortened as it moves back parallel-ish to his body. I can’t imagine it’s as taxing to digitally depict a foreshortened image based on another image as it is to foreshorten a body with paint from scratch in the 1400’s. But in my estimate it’s still a feat to make the lines and contours work artfully here, so that we can visually comprehend that these shapes compose Roman’s complete body at an extreme foreshortened angle. It’s also key to framing Roman artfully in the context of the ring, thereby maximizing the terrible pathos that has become a hallmark of his career.

There’s much to love about the aesthetics of a wrestling ring, but it’s not readily photogenic—it’s elevated high enough from ground level that it’s difficult for an artist in the audience to see from an optimal viewpoint, and the available views of any given spot are prone to being blocked by a visual obstruction—a ref, a stray body part, a folding chair, or somebody’s long hair, with the ring ropes always cutting across the scene like too many telephone wires marring a cityscape. An authentic wrestling moment also doesn’t sit still long enough to be easily framed and depicted in its space. So foreshortening allows for the troublesome image of a dynamic spot to be understood and enjoyed by the viewer.

Yay! Confetti! is of course more of post-dynamic, its movement a sort of sad, rolling lean, as Roman lays wallowing in the mess of confetti that mocks his troubled career. But a more full-bodied (as it were) foreshortened dynamism comes out quite clearly in Rear View!:

I can’t imagine a more perfect depiction of Naomi’s signature butt bonk (if you will), which comes and goes so quickly and causes such an exacting bump for her opponent that it’s difficult to really take a good look at it in its moment of glory. It’s also a highly dynamic and visually complex move, demonstrating Naomi’s intense agility and dance background, as well as the sweeping gesture of her opponent’s sell (an opponent I’m just going to assume is Summer Rae). PRBM’s exquisite framing allows the move to be understood almost as a three-dimensional sculpture, ala Mannerist Gianbologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women (circa 1580):

Ah, the lame irony of using this particular example whilst ostensibly writing about women’s wrestling. Do forgive an art history minor her necessary comparisons—Rape of the Sabine Women is the classic example of bodies caught in a dramatic, expressive moment of “theatre in the round” action. Notice how both women’s body parts are extended and tilted at various angles on a 3D xyz axis, by which I mean:

Such dimensionality is rather a feat to pull off in a two dimensional piece of art, in which there is an inherent third wall from which we are viewing it. And it’s the foreshortening that makes depiction of a 2D theater-in-the-round possible: Naomi’s torso shortens as it leans forward, while her opponent’s torso shortens in an opposing backward extension. Each arm and leg in the scene has the precise length necessary for the degree out of 360 on which it is aiming. It’s Naomi’s legs where the foreshortening is showcased in all its glory: her right leg is noticeably shorter than her left leg, and the checkered pattern on her right tights is compressed and angled perfectly, adding a layer of 3D complexity into the picture.

All the while the ring, which would almost certainly find a way to block our view of this split second spot if this moment were a photo or video, have receded into the background to allow the spot a clear, perfect frame. The white lines are mere suggestions of ring ropes, clarifying that the scene is in fact a wrestling match. This marriage of foreshortening and frame doesn’t just allow for a quick spot to be featured so perfectly, it also offers the perfect view of a complex submission hold, such as Sharpshooter!:

I contend that submission holds are another important subject for artwork, just so that we may take a close, careful look at them, well framed and free from the chaos of the wrestling match, where our attention is inevitably overwhelmed by our emotions, the roaring crowd, the frenetic camera work, and the inevitable obstructions to our view. Just as she did with Naomi’s signature move, the Rear View, PRBM has given us the perfect angle and framing for Natalya’s signature submission hold, the Sharpshooter.

Foreshortening here is not just a utilitarian technique, it is key in showcasing the relentless dynamic nature of this submission hold. Look at how Natalya leans her head back at what is, from a yogic perspective, quite a precarious extension, her neck, torso, arms, thighs, and shins all foreshortened to allow for the Hart family’s trademark display of power and agility to be understood in all of its difficulty. A closer look at her opponent, who I’m just going to call Summer Rae again, reveals PRBM’s artistic mastery. Summer Rae’s body is cranked into a severe angle in the hold, which effectively masks what I think is extreme, even cartoonish foreshortening, because look at how Natalya is facing rather sharply to her right, and yet Summer Rae’s submitting body is more visible than it should be in a space of logical realism.

The trick to pulling off this not entirely logical foreshortening, is, I think, in the framing of the hold—the ring ropes are there, again, and yet there’s a slight redirection in all three ropes to suggest a ring corner. There’s also this two-tone pink background, which cuts across behind Natalya’s figure to add another suggestion of a corner and a light source, these suggestions so vague and inexact that we’re disoriented and accept this curiously compressed view of the Sharpshooter. It’s a view in which we can get a good look at both the submittor and the submittee, and thus are able to fully understand the semiotic meaning of the Sharpshooter.

Or something like that. Anyway, in lieu of a conclusion paragraph, let’s just groove into a preview of the next essay, shall we? The next piece I have planned in this series will flesh out the PRBM -ism of cartoon satire. This is the one that got me so amped to write this series because, for example:

Image Credits: PRBM pieces from tumblr.punkrockbigmouth.com; all other images from Wikimedia Commons.

 

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