The history of art is flooded with images, representations and portrayals of the female body, often nude. Broadly speaking, these nudes have been painted or created by men — whether it was out of admiration, curiosity, the need to document or simply due to desire. And though we are inundated by this imagery, and roughly half of us call a female body home, a naked painting of a woman in contemporary art often seems unnecessarily seductive. But Robyn Frances — a local artist — has created a series of work that encapsulates a woman’s sexuality in all the right ways. Currently hanging at Pirate Contemporary Art in the 40 West Arts District, Faux Nudes is a triumph of sensuality and empowerment, with just enough sex appeal to intoxicate, followed by a dose of realism to sober up.
In total, seven individual pieces compose the exhibition. Each one follows the same technique, where Frances used scraps of faux fur as the canvas and painted the subjects directly onto the fur. As most artists do, Frances keeps scrap material from previous projects. In this case, the faux fur came from a performance piece she did a few years ago called The Love Throne where she re-upholstered a chair in the material — and the decision to start painting on the leftovers happened organically. Fast forward to the end of last year and Frances still had scraps of the stuff lying around, waiting for transformation.
“It was a coalescence of challenging myself to try something different and not having the time or money to invest in canvas or panel. A successful experiment,” she remarked.
But it’s the combination of the fur with the paint that truly informed this series for Frances. And it definitely lends to the viewer’s reaction as well, since the textures of the two materials are at once opposites and complementary. Especially with the colors and tones that Frances imbued in each piece, the combination results in a soft, gentle and transfixing appeal. On a surface level, this is exactly what the typical conceptions of the female body are. So not only does Frances acknowledge the physicality of being female — she also plays into the stereotypes. This tactic is clever because each woman she painted is a modern-day Medusa, where instead of turning someone to stone, her pointed gaze melts the stone walls they have constructed around themselves. Faux Nudes balances the scales between enticement and vulnerability.
As much as art history relies heavily on the female body, the history of humanity relies on our relationship to animals and more particularly, their fur. The ancient narratives associated with fur and the unexplainable emotional attachments and memories that it rouses in us was another component to Frances’ decision to use those materials. It is as if, by using the fur and the image of females and children she celebrates our desires to hold and be surrounded by softness. But by using slightly neon colors and aerosol paint, she keeps the pieces from becoming too calming, too motherly and reminds the viewers that sex and softness are two inevitably tangled strings.
“I have been creating artwork for many years that expresses a visual story of the feminine experience regarding sex, sensuality, and empowerment. I feel that females bodies are used, often times, as a form of currency, exploited and abused. Where is the line between abuse/exploitation and empowerment/freedom? How can I take my own experiences and formulate a visual story whose intent is to uplift and inspire authentic feminine ownership and empowerment? That is my hope. It’s all theory,” Frances explained.
Theory or not, what Frances has created in this series of work resonates particularly strong at this moment in time. She left out the uncertain, insecure and demure portrayals of the female body and instead delighted in her reality. Which, ultimately, stems from her own beautiful self-assuredness.
“I think the main reasons why art can be so successful is the energy the art is made with. I was excited and happy the whole time I created [this series]. It created a vibration that resonates with viewers. It seems like the current ecosystem in art is that people want to feel joy. Joyful, sexy, empowered.”
Faux Nudes is on view until February 3, 2019 at Pirate Contemporary Art located at 7130 West 16th Avenue. Visiting hours are Friday from 6 to 10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.