Five local artists interpret the human form unveiled.
Thursday, July 26, 2001
Grown men and women totally naked in Pacific Grove!Okay, now that I''ve got your attention, let''s talk about art, artists and muses.
Many consider drawing the nude the most fundamental test of an artist''s skill and insight, perhaps because the shapes, colors and lines of nude bodies are so familiar to us, despite the fact that we cover them up every morning before going out in public. It''s this very quality of exposure, the unmasked nature of the naked body, that makes it so compelling for painters who want to deepen their understanding of the human figure.
This week a new exhibit opens at the Lisa Coscino Gallery in Pacific Grove that celebrates the nude and its enduring tradition in art. Featuring five local artists principally known for landscape and still-life painting, this show, titled The Naked Truth, originated in a series of ongoing life-study classes in Carmel. Coscino joined artist John McWilliams to visit the studios of four other artists, painters who have been meeting and making art together privately, much as a group of musicians might get together after a concert to have a jam session. The Naked Truth is like the bootleg tape of those jam sessions, an intimate window into the minds of five painters as they explore what is artistically unique about the human form.
Visitors to The Naked Truth will immediately notice that the women vastly outnumber the men; there''s only one full monty here. This no doubt reflects the centuries-old tradition of male artists obeying their artistic muse by painting nude women; most portraits of men done by male artists tend to be fully clothed affairs. Several of the artists told Coscino that it is very difficult to find male models locally who are willing to pose nude for life-study art classes. If clothes make the man, then without clothes many men feel unmanned, too tense to adopt a relaxed pose and hold it for hours.
Within this gallery of women, however, there is considerable variation, both in style and in what one might call intent. Gordon Mortenson''s "Neta," a six-foot-tall oil-on-linen, is a real knockout painting, both bold and subtle. Mortenson is well known for his reduction woodcut prints, which require countless hours of meticulous crafting. The astonishing "Neta," whose proud stare is, well, nakedly direct, is the result of hundreds of hours of live model painting; Mortenson used no photography for this work, referring only to the immediacy and the truthfulness of an actual human body.
"Neta" is one of the few works in the show where the subject''s eyes meet those of the viewer. The woman in one pastel work by McWilliams, "The Lion," also gazes out with an expression of psychological penetration, as if she were seeing our naked bodies, too. The title of "The Lion" refers to a yoga pose in which one leaps in the air, face and body muscles taut, tongue out, eyes full of laughter and life. This head-and-shoulders image shows that nakedness can also be a state of mind.
Other pieces harken back to more traditional representations of the female body. Rick Harper''s classically styled works like "The Orientalist" and "New Rinse" recall fantasy beauties such as those painted by Renoir, Goya and Delacroix. In Tim Sloan''s contemplative pieces, the artist extends his mastery of landscape painting to the nude figure. In one handsome untitled work, a thoughtful woman''s body glows with a warm, sunny light; her nudity appears as natural as a meadow.
One of the challenges of life-study nude painting is for the model to sit, stand, or recline without moving. One work by Roianne Hart, the only woman artist of the exhibit, employs the opposite approach. Hart''s model alters her pose every 30 seconds, and rather than use a fresh page for each sketch, Hart has created a frieze-like piece, an innovative scroll of naked motion. In another striking watercolor, the reclining model''s shapes blur into a rainbow of dripping color, creating a unique, almost abstract study in color contrast.
Americans are famously ambivalent about nudity. In summer we strip down to practically nothing and lie in the sun; in magazines and films and computer screens we are bombarded by commercial images of bare flesh, almost to the point of shell-shock. Yet we are also haunted by nudity: Who hasn''t had that nightmare of suddenly finding oneself at school or work or on the street with no clothes on, horribly exposed? Parents must now be careful with home photos of their happy naked babies, lest they be reported for child pornography. The intimacy of these five artists'' works suggests a different kind of nudity, one that is celebratory yet private, spontaneous yet meditative--in a word, truthful.
The Naked Truth opens Friday, July 27 at the Lisa Coscino Gallery, 171 Central in Pacific Grove, and runs through August 25. There is a reception for the artists and some of their models on Friday from 6-8pm. For more information call 646-1939 or visit www.lisacoscinogallery.com