Depicting the nude in artwork means walking a tightrope—and there’s no catch-net below, only crowds of people. People who are still burdened by censorship-minded Puritanical roots, people who are uber-liberals and find nothing pornographic regardless how a nude might be filleted, and the rest of us, who judge the nude on merits of technique and emotional resonance alone. Regardless of who looks and who doesn’t, the human form is the oldest of artistic subjects, and one that we just can’t stop painting, drawing, sculpting, filming and casting. It is, after all, who we are. Still, some galleries and museums will not show nudity in any form, and others display it and then cover it up so that school children won’t be tainted by seeing supple breasts—as if they didn’t look at them for the first two years of their lives and won’t end up looking at them for next 60. Then there are spaces like dba256 that take a more even keeled approach—walking that tightrope of technique and theme regardless of who’s grunting below.
In its latest exhibit, Naked Truth: Figure as Form and Spirit, works from both established and emerging artists come together in a broad celebration of the human body. We found Barbara Berk’s video installation to be the most unabashedly celebratory: the over-50 artist filmed herself marching in place, in the nude, to a military tune in Hi! Hi! Hey!, her private parts masked by computer-generated camo squares that bounce along with her body. It’s hilarious, it’s proud, and it’s spunky. We love Barbara Berk.
A.S. Ashley also pulled one out of the “clever” bag with his Venus de Hey Zeus, a nine-foot cross with an image of the Venus de Milo embossed on the vertical plank and two cast hands attached to glistening, gilly trout forearms on the horizontal wood. It’s a stroke of genius that we can’t believe no one’s thought up before. We’re so glad that Ashley did.
Other mixed media breaks up the human body as well. Laura Larson’s five-box series of female torsos enclosed behind etched glass offers a colorful range of womanly body-types that celebrate the un-anorexic and Andree Mahoney’s She Overcomes Plateous sculpture of porcelain, glaze and acrylic breaks down, shatters, and melts together the pieces of woman and what she can be transformed into and by.
The human form goes into funky party mode in Davis & Davis’ series of digital and C-prints as plastic men, a woman and a baby hide behind groovy beaded curtains, dash across nighttime store fronts or simply stand erect in almost discernable anatomically correct glory. William Casting’s seven-foot piled and hand-built winged clay woman takes the form back to ancient and earthy roots, recalling a nature spirit ready to take flight with branch/twig wings.
Two of the most striking pieces come from Darren Saravis: black and white giclée prints of fit and curvaceous women upon whose bodies script sentences are projected. The lighting of the figures and background are exceptionally soft, bringing to mind Hollywood glamour shots from the studio system days. Sally Egan joins the yesteryear photo array with her black and white untitled print of a rocker/pinup blonde in a mussy, retro-kitsch pad, shielding her face from the prying photographer. The piece is remarkably original, especially given the plethora of pinuppy artwork around these days. With this piece, Egan evokes a feeling of isolation and unwanted attention instead of the over-used “starlet beckoning the spotlight” normally seen in the genre. Cherie Savoie goes even farther into the rocker/pinup scene with her Coco Noir gelatin silver print, but again, her raven-haired model has remarkable depth and little come-hither—a refreshing change that evokes the darker side of being a sex symbol.
Perhaps the pièce-de-résistance of the show is Herb Olds’ mixed media The Gift. Using what appear to be acrylic, graphite and collage images, he takes us into the world of a woman who appears to be collapsed or maybe just gently folded upon herself in front of a large painting she is either creating or has discovered. The painting within the painting is exceptionally detailed and layered—faces of a small child, a bird, and a baboon all connected through a strange stringing together of life. The woman’s body itself is both of and not of this other world.
The rest of the show is filled with admirable work as well—oils, charcoals and pastels of human bodies floating, embracing, stretching and partially draped. And, true to the title of this collection, all of these human bodies are there to be enjoyed for their form alone, with no attempt to persuade or shock, with no need to hide or placate. They are the human spirit incarnate, and they are us.
Naked Truth: Figure as Form and Spirit at dba256 Gallery & Wine Bar, 256 S. Main St., Pomona, (909) 523-7600; wwwdba256.com. Tues.–Thurs., 10AM – 10PM; Fri. & Sat., 10AM–midnight. Thru March 1.