Risk

Giuseppe Mascoli is an observer and adventurer.

Beyond the spell of perfect curves

Is she a Lolita? No, she's about 38. Yet she dresses like a bold 14-year-old, like someone, not necessarily female, who has just discovered lipstick. I heard her being called a "risquette". Her voluntary exploration of a naff tart's take on life, I suppose, does makes her risqué.

Looking at her one cannot help thinking that her beauty should have made her go down a classical avenue of lower risk in constructing her apparent personality. London offers a multitude of choices, from Barbour to Vivienne Westwood. Plenty of people are ready to embrace the classical female model – and also pay for it if necessary. But instead her life revolves around Sunset Strip and an endless collection of cheap glittering clothes. When I invite her to the Groucho, she indulges in the raised brow of the barman after asking for a Pina Colada. Over the road she shows her tits to a group of punters in exchange for forty quid to buy yet another pair of pink shoes.

Being risqué reveals an aesthetic penchant for romantic creativity best explained by the classical-romantic dichotomy. Indulging in a classical aesthetic is a Platonic search for archetypal forms and ever-lasting consensus. Following the romantic route means breaking away from that harmony, not knowing where to go and, possibly, like my friend, ending up somewhere between Barbie and Medusa.

My "risquette", however, also has a cheering and risk-free feature: her flaunted body. Well-formed, elegant shapes, emphasized by her short, tight skirts or hot-pants (they still exist), are probably the only non-risqué thing about her. They reveal agreeable conventional forms. Devotees of the serpentine line, from Michelangelo to Hogarth, would certainly have agreed. In her being generously daring – shall we say osé? – she offers a soft side that counterbalances her unsettling impact. To be osé is reassuring. It is the diametric opposite of being risqué. It hints at the discrepancy between transitory morals (petty, ugly and ephemeral) and undying beauty that is encouragingly eternal. And it stops at this surface, only alluding, while being risqué goes much further by questioning aesthetics itself. That is why risqué is romantic and osé ultimately classical.

Ezra Pound, on that score, reacted to his poetry being described as risqué in the following way: "Again to your note: 'risqué'. Now really!!! Do you apply that term to all nude statuary?"

We have seen plenty of osé oil paintings and statues where nude women provide comfort – a comfort arising not only from pleasant classical lines, but also from a reassuring passivity of the female body, simply waiting for something to happen to it. The spectator may safely play with his imagination, soothed by harmonic curves, and potentially enter the painting as the active part, fully in charge. Osé in real flesh offers a prospect of similar gratification. There is a great deal of pleasure in this valuable game, but not much risk.

Being risqué is playing in a different league, one where a yet unfathomed beauty might emerge from something we transitionally consider unsightly and inappropriate. Such explorative love of horror reveals that we are also creators of, and not only subject to, archetypal harmony. It suggests that our narrative has not ended and neither has history. To be risqué is an attitude worth exploring. But a Pina Colada is surely a step too far.

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