Y is for Youth

Y is for Youth

One day in October I was sitting in Mattsson & Mattsson’s studio and having a conversation over tea with Kaisa Mattsson. After discussing the practicalities of hosting the exhibition, we started talking about our elderly family members, and ended up talking about our own expectations for different ages. We found it both funny and strange, that pretty soon ‘the middle-aged’ will no longer be ‘them’, but ’us’. Luckily for me, I’ve always had quite positive attitude towards aging. After turning 40, the biggest change in my mindset has been that it’s okay to do things for myself, and to stop trying to prove anything to anyone.

But of course, getting eventually lonely or helpless is a scary thought and I believe that most of us are sometimes afraid of growing old. The media, popular culture and the fashion industry are not making it easier, because they’re obsessed with all things youthful. When you see photos of aged celebrities on tabloids, they’re mostly meant to be pitied or to laughed at. This is an indicative of a broader cultural belief and fascination: To age gracefully and healthy is not enough. To look good, you must look young. Advertisements on television, billboards, and magazines bombard us daily with messages solidifying that getting older is something to avoid and dread. Older in fashion industry means over 30. For women specifically, there is an expectation to cling to younger years and do everything possibly to look younger.

Stereotypes matter. And we all have a responsibility to challenge them when and where they do occur. Maria Herreros’ iconography walks between pop culture and contemporary anthropology and she has given a lot of thought to the age stereotypes. Since illustrating the book Nosotras. Historias de mujeres y algo más (Alfaguara, 2018) written by Rosa Montero, she has consciously chosen to show people at all ages in her illustrations. 

One of the most impressive portraits in the exhibition is her portrait of restaurant owner Rosalie Tobia in advanced years. Tobia was theowner of the Italian restaurant ‘Chez Rosalie’, where workers and artists, like Amadeo Modigliani and Maurice Utrillo, used to gather for a meal. There is a less flattering characterization of the former model from Rome in the book ”Modigliani: A Life”, by Meryle Secrest (published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2011): ”Rosalie had posed in the nude for Bouguereau, Carolus-Duran and Cabanel, and had had lovers. At that stage it was impossible to imagine, since she was completely shapeless, with sagging breasts, a dirty dress, and some sort of net or Neapolitan kerchief covering her stringy hair.”

Tenderly, with her great attention to detail, Maria Herreros has made a portrait, in which the subject’s beauty lies in her all-knowing gaze and the lines on her face. ”Chez Rosalie advertised itself as a crémerie, serving café au lait and chocolate, but was, in effect, a kind of personal charity. Rosalie would trudge to Les Halles before dawn each morning to buy the day’s provisions, returning on the Métro with a sack on her back. She had a quick temper, one that concealed a warm heart. Any stray dog or cat at the door was sure of a meal. She also fed mice and the rats in nearby stables, to the exasperation of her neighbors. Starving artists were another specialty. She would assemble a group at one of her four marble-topped tables, disappear into her minute kitchen, and appear with an enormous bowl of steaming spaghetti, then bang it down in the middle of the table. There would be cheap wine and few leftovers. Those who could pay, did. Those who could not, ate anyway.” (and some of them paid her with drawings, which she did not appreciate.)


Read more:

”Modigliani: A Life”, by Meryle Secrest (published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2011)

Rosalia Tobia. Arte al femminile. Ragazze di mezza stagione. April 18, 2016

To see in the exhibition:

Two portraits of Rosalie Tobia and the original illustration of ‘Chez Rosalie’ by Maria Herreros.