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A Naked Truth

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

And the Bridegroom

By Lucian Freud

Oil on canvas, 6' x 6'

Annie and Alice, 1975

By Lucian Freud

Oil on canvas, 4'” x 6'

One of the most basic fundamentals of art is the physical interpretation and subsequent execution of the human form. Nude form to be precise. It is the basis for which your artistic aptitude is formally judged. It’s a key to your development in composition, color, and focal point. It’s understanding how to frame an organic form into a static square frame. It’s learning how to see what’s actually in front of you and removing yourself from modesty, sexuality or socioeconomic constructs. Capturing gesture, light and form as your artistic voice slowly begin to emerge through your line quality and attention to the little details of the human form. Using a similar analogy, think of a group of people all given the same pencil and being asked to draw 5 circles on a piece of paper. Everyone would have different placement of the circles, size of circles and relative skill of how they drew the circles. Some circles would be lighter, some darker, but from the very basic instruction of five circles the results would be varied based on the number of individuals.

Drifting, 2006

By Odd Nerdrum

Oil on canvas, 3' x 4'

Dying Couple, 2007

By Odd Nerdrum

Oil on canvas, 58" x 58"

In art school your development as an artist begins with your interpretation of the nude human form. You undoubtedly spend (at the very least) one semester on human figure drawing. As I took upper division figure painting classes at Maryland Institute, I had been assigned models and was required to have at least twenty hours a week worth of gesture drawings, developed tonal drawings and finished paintings. The onus was on me to schedule my models to my studio to get work done in 2 to 4 hour shifts. At the time, I hated it, it was like doing long division. It was going to be a tool sharpened in my “art skill toolbox” that at the time, I thought I’d rarely use. Flash forward 25 years later, who’d know how I miss it.

Nevermore, 1897

By Paul Gauguin

Oil on canvas, 22" x 42"

There’s a certain formality and classical forum that working from life provides. To a degree, it’s painting as theater. Posing a model to the exact composition, arranging how light illuminates the skin and ultimately disassociating yourself from the person your working with to lines, spheres and ovals.

Now I guess if I wanted to work from life now I could, but it would be a huge hassle. Paying someone to get naked in my studio a few hours a week might lead to some domestic conflict. (Note from your editor: You might find yourself sleeping in your studio) You see, I’m not selling paintings for 5 to 7 figures to private collectors or displaying renowned international galleries. So, I’d be left with beautiful paintings of the human form with no real final destination. I’m pretty sure my friends and family wouldn’t want scale paintings of a naked person they don’t know. Although, that’s an easier pill to swallow then having a painting of a disrobed person they do know, I could be wrong. Don’t mistake working a nude with a portrait or still life. While the skillset is the same, the sensibilities are different.

Two Nudes in the Forest, 1939

By Frida Kahlo

Oil on metal

Collage for Nude and White Flower, 1994

By Roy Lichtenstein

Collage on board

My wife would pose for a portrait but she’s not taking off her clothes, nor would my sons, or probably any of my friends. In fact, living in the tech age, they may not want to sit motionless for 40-minute stints. It seems counterintuitive to the pace of life in which we live our lives. Now, it’s just simpler to snap pictures on my phone and work from those photos, but there’s just no substitution to the light of a sun splashed studio, and how it washes over the human form.

Study for "Battle of Casina", 1504

By Michelangelo

Chalk on paper

One more point I want to make is about what it means to work from life. Nudes have been a genre in art from the beginning. It’s the truth (or the fallacy), that artist seek in their work. You simply work with and accept what you actually see, not what you want to see. There’s an intimate relationship between model and artist. A relationship that is romanticized throughout history and is often illustrated in movies. This intimacy isn’t sexual, (at least it shouldn't be) but it’s accepting that model for who they are and interpreting them into artistic expression. Make no mistake, it takes a level of courage on the part of both artist and model. When you see yourself in the mirror or get out of the shower what do you see? The mole on your neck or uneven dimples? Or saggy arms, pot belly, stretch marks, or scars? Do you see someone that you’d wish was 25 lbs. lighter? Do the lines on your face camouflage someone you knew when you were younger? These things we hide with clothes are the very distinguishing features that define you in the eyes of an artist. They are transformed from the things you’re most embarrassed about to art.

Resource Supervisor Sleeping II, 1995

By Lucian Freud

Oil on Canvas, 6' x 6'

Le Grand Nu, 1917

By Amedeo Modigliani

Oil on canvas, 22" x 28"

At any rate, I may never work from nudes again. Unless of course, there’s any volunteers out there, then message me! Somehow all my nude figurative works from MICA are gone. All the hours spent in the studio, pads of newsprint, several substantial drawings and sustained canvases all missing. Perhaps victim to my disdain for figurative work when I left art school? None the less, the next time you come across nudes, be it paintings or drawings or even sculpture, take the time to see what’s there. It’s not shocking or obscene, but instead it’s a labor of courage, honesty, acceptance and (to a lesser degree) truth on both ends. Within that four-sided plane of canvas or paper, that individual with all those little imperfections is a work of art. It’s an image far more easier to embrace than perhaps what that other four-sided plane that hangs in your bathroom reflects.

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