NUDE turns 25 01.13.2011

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Highland Heights Artist Ken Landon Buck (born and raised in Lexington, a Tates Creek grad) recalls a memory of one of the earliest Nude exhibits, “I remember going to an opening at the LAL years ago, and was impressed at the crowd of people the figure beckoned to on a very cold night, which during the few hours it was open, turned into a blizzard. At the close of the evening, this show had people still coming to view it as I was carefully making my way to my snow covered car.” His painting in this year’s show is titled “Taking Off.”

Richmond artist Brandon Smith says, “For many people, if they are going to go to one opening a year, it is going to be the Nude show.”

This year the Lexington Art League celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Nude, the annual January exhibit featuring the human form. It focuses exclusively on the form, function and metaphoric potential of the human figure. Though the opening is often plagued by brisk to brutal weather, it’s never kept the crowds away.

In 1985, volunteer gallery director Susanee Strawhorn and members of the Art League coordinated the exhibit in response to their belief in the necessity for a venue for figurative works apart from subjects such as landscape and still life.  This year’s show includes 50 works of art (juried from 600 submissions), representing 22 states and British Columbia. It includes painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, 3D mixed media, illustration, installation, video, and interactive digital art.

Lexington artist Don Ament has a piece in this year’s show, and is still thrilled with the piece he bought at last year’s Nude. He describes it as a “full size, floating nude female, by Sarah Vaughan Knouse, made entirely of bright red, resin-coated string. Getting it into my house was a trick that took four people and a circular saw. The sculpture now resides in front of my living room window. This past Halloween, I put spooky lighting on the piece, and played screeching loud haunted music for all the trick-or-treaters.”

His piece in the current show is titled, “Emerge.” He says, “I’ve been doing figure images for the last three years with an old, toy Polaroid iZone camera. The film is no longer available, and I have to scrounge on eBay to find it. All the film is way out-of-date, and produces blurry, grainy, soft-color images—when it works at all. My inspiration is simply to make subtle, classic photographs, without trying to make any sort of statement other than creating beautiful, ‘old-world’ images of the human form. My photographic approach with models is very loose, collaborative, and serendipitous; the exact opposite of the demanding technical approach I normally use in creating my landscape images.”

Brandon Smith says of his painting, “Ahab,” in Nude 2011, “It is part of my current body of work exploring the untapped heroic potential of the contemporary man. My champions are fleshy and ill equipped for the challenges that face them. Ahab stabs at a bulbous mass of red paint while his drippy world seems to envelop him. It is definitely based on Melville’s Ahab but only loosely. My Ahab has become soft. My Ahab is however, still engaged in an epic struggle to murder his adversary.  The viewer is witnessing this moment.” 

Weaver/Photographer Dobree Adams (whose work Drought Dreams 4 is in this year’s show) has favorite memories of one of the earliest Nudes, when it was juried by the late great John Tuska, adding, “it’s terrific that this exhibition is now so well-recognized and so competitive. I feel privileged to have had work in both Nude 2010 and Nude 2011.” For her work this year, the process was “combining a photograph of a lily pond with another of a floating nude.” Adams is one of the artists participating in the March 8 ArtTalk. (She and husband Jonathan Greene have a collaborative exhibit opening January 21 at the Headley-Whitney Museum.)

LAL Board President Kurt Gohde says the Nude “challenges us to reflect on our personal identity and what it means to be human,” adding “through this engaging and inclusive exhibition, visual art provides us an opportunity to learn and grow. It is a tool for understanding ourselves, each other, and our shared humanity.”

Buck adds, “I teach the figure, and I am excited to see a venue for people to show their creations on a regular basis. I believe this show allows people to see the possibility of depicting nudes, not as a shocking thing to do, but as a great way to tell a story. This yearly showing helps to promote and inspire future artists, but also educates the public with its use of the human body in all art forms.”

Ament characterizes it as “a major show that attracts international attention,” adding “My studio is in the Loudon House, and I can attest to the fact that people pour through the Nude during the entire length of time the exhibit is up. There is always a ton of energy surrounding every aspect of the Nude.”

Brandon Smith says, “I am always impressed by the no holds barred depiction of the human body in the Nude Show. In any given year you will see work that is academic, unflattering, and sometimes really strange. This show often captures the essence of what it means to live in a body and the reasons why artists seek to explore this often uncomfortable relationship.”

The preview party is January 14, 6 pm to 10 pm at Lexington Art League at Loudoun House; tickets are $40. There will be two Fourth Friday events during the Nude, on January 28 and February 25. At the February 12 ArtTalk, juror Karen Gillenwater will discuss the show, and the March 8 ArtTalk will include discussion from artists who have work in this year’s exhibit.

MEET THE JURY

The artistic, year to year, success or failure of the Nude has risen and fallen in large part on the strength of its jurors. That selection happens behind the scenes, long before January. One year (which shall remain nameless) looked like a retrospective of Playboy Magazine rejects, but there have been stellar years too—John Tuska and Daniel Ludwig stand out as jurors who curated superb collections. One of the best was 2005’s show, juried by acclaimed New York artist Steven Assael, described by Forum Gallery in New ork as a “New Old Master.” His participation was secured, in large part, by the late Ross Zirkle. Assael said at the time, “We psychologically identify with the nude. And so we measure everything, we measure the world against it.”

This Year’s Jury:

Karen Gillenwater is curator at the Carnegie Center for Art & History in New Albany, Ind., where she plans art exhibitions and programs. She is also part of the team implementing the New Albany Bicentennial Public Art Project, a new venture created by the Carnegie Center and the New Albany Urban Enterprise Association. Gillenwater was formerly Director of Art Galleries and Curator of Collections at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky., where she implemented the Live. Learn. Believe. Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition on the college’s campus and served as adjunct professor of art history.  Previously, she held the positions of curatorial administrative coordinator at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Ky., and adult programs coordinator at the Denver Art Museum. 

Mark Priest has a B.A. in painting from the University of Louisville and an MFA in painting from Yale University. Besides being a former machine operator for CSX Railroad, he has worked in many positions teaching art: guest artist/instructor at Manual High School in Louisville in 1986, teaching assistant under Professor Richard Ryan in intermediate drawing at Yale, and teacher at the Visual Arts Association in Louisville and at Seminole Community College in Sanford, FL. An award-winning artist, Priest’s work can be found in work the collections of the George Meany Labor Center in Washington, D.C.; the Kildare County Arts Center in Newbridge, Ireland; Brown-Forman Corp.; Orlando City Hall of Orlando, FL; the First National Bank of Louisville; and others. Priest is currently an associate professor of painting and drawing at U of L, a position he has held since 1993.



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