© 2019

Sydney, New South Wales | James Mathurin | james.mathurin@gmail.com

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The Mechanicals

I actually got the idea for these at my wedding reception. The venue we were using had several Art Nouveau prints on display, and their style struck me as quite a modern one, and I wanted to try combining them with some of the comic book and sci-fi ideas that I've always been interested in. 

 

I researched a few pieces (L'ermitage by Paul Emile Berthon, 1897; L'ete and Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt by Alphonse Mucha, and old photographs of Victorian gentlemen and ladies), and updated them, while trying to keep an authentic Art Nouveau feel. Recently, I've even tried it with more contemporary photos, with a Nina Simone piece.

I didn't realise that these pictures were telling a story until I was putting together the Different Worlds exhibition at the ArtSHINE gallery. A world emerged where, since the Victorian era, mankind has lived alongside intelligent, robotic creatures, known as 'The Mechanicals’.

Steampunk robot Sarah Bernhardt

Profile Pic of Sarah Bernhardt 2015

Some Victorian mechanicals recognised that entertainment offered a way to improve their social standing, and sought to remodel and even rename themselves after famous entertainers of the time, such as actor, poet and writer Sarah Bernhardt.

steampunk cyborg victorian gentleman illustration robot
steampunk lady art nouveau robot l'ermitage

The Gentleman 2013

Despite being recognised as intelligent, feeling beings, machines were very much treated as an underclass in Victorian society. Aware of this, but unsure of how to advance themselves, some remodelled their bodies into imitations of human aristocracy, sometimes even commissioning self-portraits.

L'ermitage 2012

Art Nouveau designer Paul Berthon depicts a living mechanical model as he promotes his upcoming show, L’ermitage. The choice of model is controversial, with ‘mechanicals’, as they are known, are an underclass viewed with suspicion by many.

steampunk art robot
art nouveau steampunk black victorian lady robot

L'été 2012

As a Czech living in Paris in the late 19th Century, Alphonse Mucha identified with The Mechanicals as fellow outsiders.

For a detailed look at how L'été was created, have a look at this blog entry all about it.

The Lady 2015

Many machines tried to alter their appearance to assimilate into human society without an understanding of social constructs like race and gender. It confused them that, for example, identifying as a black woman further lowered their social status.

The Dancers 2017

In the early Twentieth Century, mechanicals started to identify with groups who were marginalised like them, such as African-Americans. This led to many mechanicals becoming part of the jazz scene, as seen in this image from a 1930s jazz club.

Have a look at the blog page for this piece to see the process this piece went through.

Nina 2015

Nina SImone steampunk robot
The Lady