My latest piece, above, is another real labor of love. I painted it as a gift for my dear friend who modeled for me after several years of talking about modeling, dreaming about it, circling the possibility through many conversations. My friend is so many things: a writer, an artist herself, a rabid Harry Potter fan, a rabid fan of much mythical literature besides, and also someone who is very literate in feminist theory. She is far more up than I am on the concept of the Male Gaze and far more thoughtful about all the dynamics of commodification that alienate women from their bodies and from each other. She also is very sex- and body-positive, having worked at women-friendly sex shops and so forth. She is herself queer (currently only dating women), and, on top of that, she is classically gorgeous, with a figure that just begs for the brush. She is just flatly the most awesome human being. I love her so much, and I am so incredibly privileged to call her my friend.
Having said all that, I have probably already made it clear why this image drew my artistic ambition. This strong-woman pose so perfectly suits her--it mirrors my inner view of her. When I gave it to her, to my eternal delight, she beamed and said, "I want to put it on my wall!" That's kind of what I was hoping she would say. 😃
To be sure, I am not entirely happy with the piece. The facial portrait especially is far from perfect. But I still like the piece, especially the play of light and shadow that sort of criss-crosses her body. As I look at it, my eye travels down, across, and back up her figure in a most delightful way.
When we last met, talking art and eating lunch in my home, she saw for the first time not only this piece but also the other major piece I've done of her, below:
In my discussion of this piece in my earlier blog entry, I stated how much I love the piece--very much indeed--and also noted that one of the reasons I love it so much is that it captures one of those moments I cherish and love to paint: those moments when the model is, or seems to, be in a moment of self-delight, happy and content to be alive at this time in this body. But when I showed my friend the painting, she did not express that flavor of appreciation. Instead, she spoke (haltingly, I must say) about the oddity or the shock of seeing herself objectified (not the word she used) in a painting so, well, nakedly. She stated that she does appreciate the painting as a work of art and sees and appreciates the beauty of it. But still: the blatant fact of the picture's blatancy, within a social context that is so fraught with tensions around bodies and image-making, is cause, she said or implied, for considerable ambivalence.
"Why can't we just love ourselves and appreciate the beauty of the body for the simple beauty that it is and offers?" That's the question I frequently hear from people, women especially, when we look at and discuss my work. There's a poignant loss and longing there, a feeling that I certainly understand and share (as I have noted in other entries). "Why did we get kicked out of this garden, where we could just uncomplicatedly love ourselves, and is there any route back?" That might be a way of paraphrasing the question. Who knows why we lack or lose the simple, innocent joy we have in our own bodies and in the bodies of others, and who knows why that joy gets replaced by fear, anxiety, shame, protectionism? There are 18,000 answers to this question, but all point to one conclusion: There is no easy way back. There is no way out but through. We have to take our bodies back. In that spirit, can we say the following?:
- Every time we stand in front of the mirror and see something we like, that is a triumph
- Every time we claim our right to pleasure and love our bodies through touch, through orgasms, through use and exertion, that is a triumph
- Every time we bravely stand up, whether for art purposes and any other, and say, "here I am in my body, here I am, bodymindsoul, and I take delight in myself and in your love of the body that you see before you," that is a triumph
I don't think we have any alternative but to say yes and say yes again and say yes again and again, in opposition to the voices that tell us no. We can do it!