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This weekend a mass of wobbling humanity cycled past our gallery in the World Naked Bike Ride. The throng of nudists got us thinking about nudes in art. The nude has inspired, enraptured and enraged both the art world and the public for centuries. Here’s our pick of the best contemporary nudes...
The history of the nude started around 25,000 years ago with ‘The Venus of Willendorf’, a sculpture thought to be a fertility symbol and has continued ever since. Nudes were a central preoccupation of Ancient Greek art, and after a semi-dormant period in the Middle Ages returned to a pivotal position in Western art with the Renaissance.
Nudes remained a popular subject in the historical paintings of the 18th and 19th centuries and although the academic tradition lost its cultural supremacy at the beginning of the twentieth century, the nude remained. Many of art history’s most timeless classics are nudes, from Diego Velasquez’s ‘The Toilet of Venus’ to Edgar Degas’ ‘After The Bath’, Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Three Ages of Woman’ and Matisse’s Blue Nudes.
Just as in ancient times the nude continues to be an evocative representation of a contemporary culture. Here’s the naked truth behind our favourite artists creating nudes today...
Contemporary painter Jake Wood-Evans is inspired by the classical paintings of the Old Masters so it’s no surprise that he tackles the classical art genre of the nude. Following the examples of Rembrandt van Rijn and Diego Velasquez, he creates dark and ethereal works which capture the imagination.
“I like to make things ambiguous so that there is room for the viewer to imagine, and depending on their mood feel something different each time they look at the work. Is it sad? Is it beautiful? I like to leave a painting in the balance,” explained Jake Wood-Evans in our artist interview.
Despite employing classical techniques to explore timeless themes such as death, love, loss and beauty, Jake Wood-Evans’ nudes remain incredibly emotionally provocative for contemporary viewers.
Collage artist Sarah Hardacre is known for her Salford skylines overshadowed by the sensual shapes of appropriated second-hand porn models (or ‘gentleman’s’ magazines as she prefers to call them). The rounded tummies, buxom chests and tufts of body hair dramatically contrast with the uniformity of the hard-edged, phallic sixties housing.
At the heart of Hardacre’s work is her “personal questioning of the roles of women within this new futuristic world of the home, specifically within the context of forever ‘re-generating’ working class communities.” She doesn’t shy away from questioning the position of women in post-war housing experiments; in fact the issue is boldly laid bare.
Sarah Hardacre’s selection of sixties and seventies models is celebratory in a sense, they appear proud and powerful. Their natural curves and sexuality represent a stance against the male dominated environment, technology and politics. Just as Sarah’s Salford images can be read as nostalgic of a lost era of optimism, her scantily clad women wistfully hark back to a time before fake tan, manicured body hair and plastic surgery; a time when erotic images were much closer to the reality of women’s bodies.
John Simpson explores the relationship between the human figure and animal forms in his fascinating contemporary nudes. Referencing the world of folk tale and myth, he creates bewitching and enchanting images of hybrid human forms, “I use references to folktale or myth to allude to the history of painting and the human relationship with other animals.”
Simpson’s limited edition prints like ‘Kids’ and ‘Encounter with Omega’ depict naked human figures with animal heads and features such as antlers. Other work such as ‘The Briar Patch’ and ‘Nocturne’ illustrate nuce female figures crouched with hares and wolves. These incredible contemporary drawings are a visceral reminder of our carnal characteristics and our earthly existence.
Pioneering Pop artist Peter Blake is a grandee of British culture and his few nudes represent each of the major styles he has mastered, from pure Pop to contemporary collage and appropriated vintage ephemera. ‘Kandy’, for example is a classic Peter Blake Pop piece, featuring his characteristic lettering, bold colour palette and an alluring sixties beauty.
In 1969, Blake created ‘Six French Postcards’, a series of silkscreen prints of appropriated photographic nudes. The series, which is now held in the Tate collection, is a wonderful early example of an artistic practice he has continued to perfect, that of finding, collecting and appropriating vintage printed ephemera.
Peter Blake’s latest nude can be found in his ‘Under Milk Wood Print Portfolio’. The contemporary collage features a female nude alongside etchings of sheep and illustrations of a goat and its kid. It is one of six prints Blake released following his project to illustrate Dylan Thomas’ 1953 play ‘Under Milk Wood’. This astonishing nude confirms Blake’s mastery of collage and demonstrates his fantastically diverse approach to the genre of nudes.
Street artist Copyright fuses Street Art, graffiti and more traditional styles in his exploration of traditional and timeless themes, such as beauty, nature and femininity. Street Art is more commonly political or satirical, but Copyright is pushing the boundaries of the art movement with his beautiful nudes, floral motifs and delicate butterflies.
In our recent interview Copyright admitted, “A lot of people think I’m a woman or gay,” (he is neither) He emphasized how ludicrous this was by pointing to the historical example of Renaissance artists, like Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci, who explored subjects such as angels, motherhood and femininity, whilst remaining exemplars of ‘Renaissance men’ and ‘masculinity’. Copyright revealed, “When I was seventeen I started painting pin-ups, half-naked chicks.” Undressed women have remained a favourite subject of his ever since!
Image credits:© Peter Blake 2014. All rights reserved, DACS License this image