Thursday, May 30, 2013

Pinup Style

Recently a friend of mine (purely virtually thus far) who paints gorgeous, amazing figures in the style of Lucien Freud and other contemporary naturalistic figure artists posted a kind of artistic self-defense to Facebook.  Here are some of her words:

"I like idealization in CLASSICAL paintings of people as it is striving for a godliness in the image, but 'chocolate box' prettiness in more modern works or 'pin up' type figurative art leaves me cold or even bothered...

"Introducing sexiness or sauciness is not fine art to me as it stops being honest...and starts to approach a pornographic view, especially of the female body....even in a very soft core way. Then it is not about art anymore..but about sex. It takes on a different perspective."

I have been thinking about Rosanna's thoughts ever since reading them last April.  In a reply, I admitted that I do understand the appeal of a well done pin-up image--the playful, teasing eroticism can be fun.  Here I want to reflect on the work I've done with models who love that kind of thing and who willingly participate in developing tableux, finding costumes, putting on the cheesy grins or the startled expressions that say, "ooh!  I didn't see you there as I was adjusting my garters!"  There's a burlesque rather than a pornographic feel there, a playfulness, and the photo sessions can be, yeah, very collaborative, creative, fun.

But I still have a very conflicted attitude toward overt eroticism in my painting.  Here are three paintings I've already posted that do something like pinup style.  Perhaps "bathing beauty" style is a better term for these three.

The image from which this was painted was taken in a photo session that was tons and tons of fun.  My model wore a gorgeous brick-red dress for part of it and, as you can see, a white flower in her hair.  She was made up, looking very, very pretty.  We did do some back nudity at the end of the session, but mostly she was clothed, either in the dress or, as you can see, in a bathing suit.  

This one is obviously even a bit more overtly erotic, due to the toplessness and the saucy bikini bottoms.  In her bathing suit, this model absolutely embodied "SoCal beach chick" (a designation she would willingly embrace, as, in fact, she is from Southern California and spent much of her younger life on the beach).  She really got into it too, playfully undoing the side straps of her bottoms at various moments, for instance.  It was another session full of laughter, fun, delight.

This absolutely gorgeous model worked in the bathing suit, as you can see, as well as in drapery or in underwear.  This picture is the most overtly pinup-y of her set; "glam" would be the best term for most of her bathing beauty images.  A brilliant dancer, she also naturally fell into gorgeous classic figure-poses.

The obvious features that to me distinguish these as a certain kind of painting are the direct gaze at the viewer and the big come-hither smile.   I absolutely see the overt erotification and objectification, the sexiness of these images.  These are not "sublime figures."  They're snapshot-ty, girl-next-door-ish, and pretty conventional as fantasy-images.

Here's an interesting fact.  Sometimes, as in these cases, my choice to go in the pinup direction has come about by virtue of the model's modesty.  All of these models have shared their nudity with me to varying extents but none has gone "all the way" to do full figurative art-modeling.  It's a curious irony that I've shared with the models, and all of them have taken the point: a bathing suit is way sexier than skin.  Clothes are about sex in a way that the nude figure simply isn't, or isn't necessarily.  The bathing suit brings the body into the realm of the real, brings it down on to the beach; it obviates the possibility of it participating in the eternal, timeless goddess form that so many classical artists (and I) have been primarily interested in.  (Interestingly, toga-like drapery has a very different effect for me than a bathing suit.)

The model knows all this, and yet she still wants to preserve her modesty.  And so I find myself trying to figure out what to do: my usual preference toward sublime figures is not now an option.  Looking for ways to make it fun and collaborative, I find that the pinup style seems to be the obvious and ready option.  So that's what we do.  It is fun, and it is collaborative, plus it is theatrical and, essentially, un-intimate: she's acting a role.  Thus the pinup style is paradoxically a kind of modesty, or a bid for modesty.  It's like the sexy halloween costumes that young women are offered and so often appear to don with relish: ways to be sexy without being intimate or truly, really naked.  We live in an age that believes itself to be a "let it all hang out" era, but to me such is very much not the case.

And yet for me, there is still a nakedness, an honesty, to these paintings.  In them, despite the sauciness, I'm still following my major mantra: to paint what's there, to understand this body in this image.  Sometimes I wonder if my models are grouchy with me when they see these paintings.  In none of these images have I regularized features, slenderized legs, and so on.  Do the models and viewers want to see the "dishonest" "idealization" that pinup artists typically employ--the modesty embraced by that dishonesty?  Does the honesty of my paintings make them something other than pinup images? 

I'm not sure.  Certainly I see that Rosanna and I are on the same page, basically.  I actually find myself flatly incapable of doing that regularizing, perfecting, idealizing thing.  I'm not sure that I know how to do it even if I wanted to.  I do know that I enjoyed painting the pictures, and I certainly know that I love these model-collaborators fiercely, so I hope earnestly that I am doing them all the justice I can, honoring them with what I hope is an honest gaze that comes from that place of love.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Figures, Figures

I am back to having some time to paint, and still all I want to paint are figures.   It's been nearly six months since I seriously put paint on paper, and as I do so it feels like my spirit is filling back up with high octane fuel.

That doesn't mean that I'm happy with everything.  The above portrait of a friend of mine does not in the least reflect her loveliness.  I like the torso and the drape OK, but I think it will take me several more paintings to really understand how to capture her visage.

This one's a little better.

And this one's best of all.  Here's what I truly am interested in doing with my work: capturing the play of light on skin.  The face is quite accurate of my friend Chelsea.  The torso and especially the breasts are exactly right.

I will probably write more about some of these soon.