The nude is nothing new in art. Naked bodies have long been a source of inspiration for painters, sculptors, and photographers. Historically, most images of the nude figure in museums and galleries across the world have been of women by men. Reasons for this discrepancy range from discrimination and sexism to arguments that the female form is simply more attractive.
Local artist and gallery owner Everett White puts it this way: “I find the female shapes to be more aesthetically satisfying, although if one of my works calls for a male nude, then a nude male it will be.” Whatever the motivation, nudity is a recurring theme for the second annual exhibit, Re-Nude: Celebrate the Body.
After a successful debut last spring, generating $9,500 for Planned Parenthood, event organizer Leila Davenport Ross says there was no doubt about doing it all over again. “Our mission is to celebrate the body, not exploit the human figure or objectify it in any way,” she says. “This show is not about sex or being sexy, it’s about celebrating a diverse, creative community in Charleston, celebrating our bodies, and trying our best to help this local resource raise much-needed funds.”
In White’s mixed media “Torso Study,” the female shape is floating and silhouetted against a rich, coffee-colored background. White says, “In this case a face is not an identifying factor. She floats here less as an individual and more as a plural being identified by a body, defined as a sex.” The nude form is a recurring fixture in White’s work. “My nudes — male or female — are amalgamations of ideas and details derived from life, photography, thought, past, present, and future.”
Exhibiting for the second year, artist Lisa Shimko is known for her abstract paintings of birds and fruit, and she doesn’t typically paint nudes. She says “Sleep Owl,” which features an owl watching over a sleeping woman, came about in a stream-of-consciousness way. “I start with colors and maybe a shape, and just let my mind wander without trying to control it too much. When I create work in this method, it’s interesting for me and hopefully the viewer,” Shimko says. “It’s like a dream and can be personal to whoever is looking at it. There is no right or wrong perspective.” Using her imagination instead of photographs or models to paint the human form, she says, “The body is a vehicle, as are the birds and other animals that I use in my work to convey emotion and ideas.”
Unlike Shimko, Lynne Hamontree is no stranger to nudes — usually females. “The female body is fuller and has more shapes, and I am fascinated by the angles and the shapes within the human figure. Color is what I do best, so I love to combine colors from my imagination and inject them into the figure. True beauty to me is not perfect, not plastic. It is all the imperfections that make us beautiful and unique.” Her representational paintings show the human figure in poses that reveal the curves of a thigh and the sharp angle of an elbow.
Contemporary artist Timothy Pakron says there is not a local market for the kind of nudes he’d like to paint, nudes that would make the viewer uncomfortable — specifically male nudes, sexual nudes, or “nudity that has a story behind it that may be unsettling for the viewer,” he says. “Charleston is just not the place to risk opportunities on gallery wall spaces with experimental, hard to digest, uncomfortable nudity, or any art for that matter.”
Pakron’s technique blends photography and painting to create minimal, black-and-white abstract images. Painting directly onto the photographic image, he creates a dripping effect. In “Untitled,” a 24×20 gelatin silver print, a female figure stands in a crucifixion pose. “The objectification of the human figure has such a strong presence in art and media,” Pakron says. “My goal is never to objectify the body, but to embrace the personality of the model, or to suggest a deeper meaning.
“With the piece I am showing at Re-Nude, I am suggesting a deeper meaning,” he adds. “At first glance, the piece is soft and lovely. But if you take a closer look, the female figure is being crucified. This represents how women as a whole are objectified in the media and in art daily.”
Pakron was inspired by the exhibit’s theme, as well as the mission of Planned Parenthood, to spread awareness and fight oppression. “To me that means celebrating the freedom to do what we want with our bodies, appreciate our bodies, respect our bodies, and feel good in our bodies.”