James Hyman Gallery is pleased to present a special exhibition entitled The Human Abstract. The exhibition takes its title from a poem by William Blake from 1794 and explores the ways in which artists have abstracted the human body and human experience.

Building on this theme, a central aspect is inspired by Honore de Balzac’s great short story, The Unknown Masterpiece (1831). Rather than seeing the story as a message about abstraction, The Human Abstract, seeks to reinsert the figurative aspect. In Balzac’s tale, after ten years of labour, Frenhofer unveils his portrait of his lover to be met by astonishment. All the viewers see is the paint, but then as they continue to look, a foot emerges.

The Human Abstract builds on this revelation moment to explore approaches in which isolated elements such as a head or a finger suggest fragments disrupt a sense of self and suggest human vulnerability. The exhibition includes painting, drawing, photography and sculpture to explore the human predicament in the Modern Age through strategies by which artists have presented the whole and fragmented body as indicators of a contemporary sense of self.