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Hamptons Life

May 18, 2010 10:38 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Artists offer theories on renewed interest in nude figurative work

May 18, 2010 10:38 AM

T

his is the second of three stories examining a rising interest in nude figurative work on the East End.

Last week’s Great Nude Invitational Art Fair in Manhattan waved a philosophical flag that a shift was in the wind: Interest in collecting and making work inspired by the nude is on an upswing. The rising interest in the nude has also been evident on the East End, with signposts showing the way for months.

A nude exhibition, “Body + Soul,” was held at the Tulla Booth Gallery in Sag Harbor in February and March. Throughout the show, a photograph of a female nude torso overlooked Sag Harbor’s Main Street.

Two weekends ago, the second of a three-exhibition series featuring figurative work was held at Ashawagh Hall in East Hampton. The art shows feature work made by members of the group Body of Work, artists who banded together to bring attention to the fact that the human figure is a powerful source of inspiration.

Last winter, the Crazy Monkey Gallery in Amagansett held its first “adults only” nude show, with the gallery’s front window cloaked for the exhibit.

The Mosquito Hawk Gallery on Shelter Island is opening its summer season with a nude figurative show. The gallery exhibited the work of Mary Larsen of Shelter Island in the Great Nude Invitational and gallery owner Alexis Martino is a photographer who features nudes in her narrative works.

Among art professionals surveyed, there is a shared sense that nude figurative work is experiencing a resurgence, and different explanations for what’s driving the renewed interest.

One reason may be that looking at the human figure causes viewers to contemplate their own humanity, Ms. Martino said. Being nude or considering a state of undress is a great equalizer, she said. There is no covering up of imperfections and vulnerability, she said, and acceptance of what is can be a powerful experience.

A reduction in face time may be fueling an interest in the human form, said Robert Curcio, a co-founder of the Great Nude Invitational. While the internet allows people to connect through social networking sites like Facebook, Second Life, online gaming and message boards, the loss of actual face time may be a reason images of the human body are becoming compelling again, he said.

East Hampton and Manhattan classical realist painter Thomas Shelford believes artists are gravitating toward the figure as an antidote to object disconnection that began with modernism and continued with conceptualism. Both artists and viewers want to be able to recognize the elements in a painting, drawing or sculpture, he said.

Mr. Shelford sees the return to the nude as a movement toward connectedness: artists with artists, viewers with art, and both artists and viewers to the human condition in general.

He and artist Jane Martin said separately that the environmental movement may have paved the way for a new openness to the human figure. Being connected to nature and to those who share that connection may have given rise to a new appreciation for the shared aspects of human experience, as reflected by the figure in its natural state.

Ms. Martin’s art is inspired by the figure and the natural world. She begins her paintings by filming models in manmade settings. She combs through the footage, selects stills and methodically coaxes the images into artwork. Some of her works combine figurative and nature studies, other series focus on nature alone or on portions of the body. She began as an abstract painter and worked for years in the film industry.

Ms. Martin began working with nudes for the expressiveness of the human figure. The figure—set down in different surroundings—conjures mystery, an implied narrative and emotion.

Southampton photographer Tapp Francke works with nudes for similar reasons. Some of her nude works were exhibited in the Great Nude Invitational through Anelle Gandelman Fine Art. Ms. Francke is a colorist whose other series include abstraction, florals, colored neon lights and fruit.

“There’s something about the female form that is so expressive,” she said. “It captures what I want to say in a way that’s obvious to the viewer. Then I can develop the idea further with color.”

Both women said separately that demand for their nude series runs in cycles. Lately, it seems nudes are finding favor with collectors and in exhibition opportunities.

“There are times where galleries aren’t interested in showing them and are more interested in the other works,” Ms. Francke said. “Then things change and the nudes are in shows and are selling. It doesn’t matter to me what the market is: I keep making them. They’ve been a constant in my work.”

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