I regularly attend a couple of local life drawing groups. Occasionally, the group decides that they’d like to draw the model clothed.
Turns out, drawing clothed people bores me to tears. I know, I know. Just last week I was talking about how much I love painting portraits and portraits are, generally speaking, clothed people.
But that’s a different experience, and one of a delightful back and forth between painter and subject.
However, when I’m working on a full length painting of someone, I want clothes off please.
Clothes are boring. Dull. Oh, sometimes they can be fun, or interesting. I can certainly see the appeal for some, and I’m apt to get pretty excited about satin gowns myself.
But for me, nothing compares to the exquisite magnificence of light on skin. Light on skin is delicious.
Sometimes people are weirded out that I draw nudes. Or they’re disappointed – they’d like my work if only I painted more clothed people – “Do you always just paint nudes?” Which is fine, but also means they would never really like my work.
Subject matter and style for me are irrevocably intertwined. I studied the tradition I did because I think that the human body is just so goddamn beautiful, it hurts. All shapes, all sizes, all colours. Doesn’t matter. There is an innate and unconscious grace to the human body that I just find incredibly lovely. We’re so marvellously put together.
The colours that dwell within the skin are also delicious. When it comes to painting naked people, I am a hedonist – I cannot get enough. And the so-called “imperfections” are my favourite: scars, funny little folds, roundness. All the things that Vogue would photoshop out, I adore. I want your imperfections. I want your rough, raw humanity. I want your edges and your hurts and your fragility. I want your vulnerability.
It is the stories our bodies hold that intrigue me. Every experience, every memory, every hurt, every caress gets stored away in our bodies, in our cells. The body remembers what we often forget.
Without our clothes, our bodies have their own narrative, which may not be the same one we tell the world. And it is almost definitely not the one the world projects onto us.
And underneath it all, I love to paint and draw nudes for the same reason that I love to paint portraits – it is the unlabelling that I find so wonderful. Our labels can both define us and trap us. Like my husband’s awful mock neck work uniform, sometimes they can strangle you gently.
My devotion to “tiny details” as another artist described it is actually a devotion to truth – the truth of what you actually look like, without your labels and symbolizations and preconceived notions of what you think you look like and what you think you should look like.
It is a celebration of you, exactly the way you are, funny little folds and all.
(This was first published in my newsletter, which you can sign up for here!)