During my preteen and early teenage years I was constantly in search of art classes that had some rigor, ones that were more serious than simply “expressing one’s self.” Starting from the age of eight, I took painting classes with a wonderful woman who had us painting one still life after another broken up by the occasional landscape in the good weather. I learned good basic habits. She allowed us a limited palette, so we would learn how to mix colors. Eventually, however, I felt that her influence in my style had to be balanced out by other instructors. One year, I signed up for drawing classes at an art center in a town about a half an hour away. Fortunately, I had an indulgent father who was willing to drive me there. One thing that was very exciting for me was the promise of several life drawing sessions with a real, live, nude model. I didn’t wonder if the model would be male or female, young or old, handsome or ugly. I just wanted to be able to draw a figure from life. There was a catch, however. We had to have signed permission from out parents. If any child’s parents objected, there would be no nude model. The parents of one child refused to give permission and, consequently, none of us could draw from a nude model. We drew portraits and still-lifes and clothed figures, but for me it was a great disappointment. Whatever I do, I tend to do in a very serious fashion. I had been painting in oils for several years because that was what I believed serious artists used. I was trying to get, in a piecemeal way, what I imagined a traditional art education might be. Life drawing was an essential item that I still had not had a chance to try.
Around this same time, I enrolled in a summer session at Parson’s School of Design in New York City. There we would have nude models. One of my suitemates was slightly older, perhaps sixteen. While I was enrolled in their Foundation class, she was taking some photography classes. She asked me to pose for her. I did. That was the first, but far from the last time I posed nude. I would eventually go on to pose for several photographer friends as well as for art classes.
Eventually, I would get my life drawing classes. Not only that, but a great deal of my work has revolved around the human figure. Once day, I happened to glance at myself in the bathroom mirror. The window was to one side and I found myself fascinated by the play of light across my torso, especially across my collar-bone. I painted it. It was an important moment for me because it was the beginning of the development of my own style. At the time, I was purely interested in formal aspects of painting, the color, the composition. The subject, my torso, was at the time beside the point. Eventually, however, the subject matter of my work would become more important. Beyond simply rendering the human figure, I began to explore questions of human experience with a particular interest in sexuality.
Over the years, I got used to the fact that there are many places where I can’t show my work. I often find myself warning people who ask to see it that my work contains graphic imagery, including genitalia. Many people brush off my warnings, seeming slightly offended, saying that they know that nudity isn’t always sexual. Of course, some of the nudity in my paintings is sexual, and then again some is not. Yet plenty of art shows have a straightforward no nudity rule. Needless to say, I think that’s ridiculous.
There was an even that prompted this post, but I’m getting tired and perhaps I’ll address it in the future.