Art exhibit seeks to demystify the nude

HONORING THE HUMAN FORM: Joseph Pearson is one of six Asheville artists featured in the exhibit The Nude: Beauty, Grace and Form — Celebrating the Human Figure at Pink Dog Creative. Photo by Phillip Wyatt

For his latest group show, The Nude: Beauty, Grace and Form — Celebrating the Human Figure at Pink Dog Creativelocal artist Joseph Pearson wants to strip away all reservations and preconceived notions that audience members may have about the human flesh.

“We want to take that negative connotation out of ‘naked,’” the artist says. “Nakedness can be viewed as a unifying factor for humans. No matter race or religion, everyone shares the same organs despite their background.”

Celebrating the human figure, The Nude: Beauty, Grace and Form opens at Pink Dog Gallery in the River Arts District on Saturday, Feb. 4,  5-8 p.m.

“We hope folks will come in here, see the naked body, see there’s nothing vulgar about it and see the work and effort artists put in to see the beauty of the human form in different ways,” Pearson says.

Most complex 

Drawing or painting the human form is one of the staples of art education, Pearson notes.

“The human figure is the most complex form in nature. Once you understand the basic fundamentals of the human figure —  movement, shapes, form, emotion —  you’re able to translate that into everything else you do,” Pearson explains. “Everything else is really, really simple compared to the human figure.”

Pearson says he has been an artist since age 4, when he first discovered the concept of the human form as art in the pages of the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogs. He would copy the illustrations of models clad in various fashions to practice figure drawing, quickly realizing he had developed a new passion for the arts.

“I saw fashion illustrations, and there was just something about the idea that somebody can make a human figure out of lines and shapes,” he says. “The figure has been my passion ever since. I can do landscapes and still lifes, but it doesn’t give me the same gratification or allow me to say what I want to say.”

Remember Michelangelo 

For centuries, the Catholic Church served as one of the world’s most important collectors and patrons of the arts. When the written word of God seemingly wasn’t enough to captivate audiences, the church commissioned art as a visual means of celebrating Christ and strengthening its holy message.

Many of these contracted works featured naked religious entities signifying beauty, fertility, welfare and justice, Pearson says.

“All those beautiful figures, clothed or unclothed, couldn’t be painted without understanding the human figure,” he says. “Look at the Venus [paintings] throughout history. They’re not just naked women for the sake of being naked.”

By the 19th century, the symbolism and iconography of the nude form in Western culture began to shift. Such works were interpreted as lewd rather than pure in nature. Pearson faults the hypocrisy of religious followers as the culprit for such a cultural change.

“We artists, we’re concerned with expressing the innate beauty of the human form, and they’ll look down on us and criticize us,” he says. “I stopped catering to people’s insecurity and ignorance behind that because it insults my profession. Michelangelo couldn’t have done David if he didn’t understand the human figure. Da Vinci couldn’t have painted the Mona Lisa if he didn’t understand anatomy and how light plays off the human figure.”

Both sides of the easel 

For his latest exhibit, Pearson will be joined by fellow Asheville artists Bonnie Currie, Cyrus Glance, Skip Rohde, Josh Tripoli and Leaflin Winecoff. Pearson notes that he met most of the featured artists during a weekly model sketch group meetup at Rusty Lotus Dojo, a shared artist space in downtown Asheville akin to a speakeasy of sorts. With no signage and no public address, artists learn of the space through word-of-mouth.

Each week, a model will pose for a two-hour sketch session for a diverse group of local artists, ranging from beginners to seasoned members of the arts community. Models of all gender identities and body types participate.

“Our group is kind of unique in that it was started by models instead of artists,” says Winecoff, who along with being an artist, is a model and the co-director of Rusty Lotus Dojo. Often in popular culture, she notes, the perception of a nude drawing course includes a naked female model surrounded by male artists. “I feel like we’re subverting the trope of a bunch of men gathering around to draw a nude woman.”

Winecoff was introduced to figure drawing while in high school. By the time she was in college, the artist decided to face her fear on the other side of the easel as a model.

“I was really just shocked because I really only felt naked for maybe three minutes and after that it kind of fell away. It was really empowering to feel comfortable while being vulnerable,” Winecoff says. “It’s been really healing for a lot of models.”

Something old, something new

Whereas Pearson uses ink wash, chalk, pastel pencils and traditional canvas and paper, Winecoff prefers older materials such as textbooks, music scores and Bibles, drawing her figures on the aged pages with marker.

A self-proclaimed painter at heart, she used to feel as if she had to force herself to draw the human figure. She simply did not like the texture and feeling of pencil on paper. Despite her disdain for conventional paper, Winecoff persisted with drawing, knowing the practice was essential in developing and sharpening her artistic talent.

Once she found the right material, figure drawing no longer seemed like a chore.

Winecoff says she prefers the feeling and movement of marker on the thicker paper old books provide. They are also cheaper to purchase than new sketchbooks and canvases, and they reduce waste as upcycled works of art.

“I really see it as a practice in seeing, which winds up being almost more of a meditation practice,” Winecoff says. “There’s something that’s very therapeutic about practicing seeing what’s in front of you instead of referring to what’s in your brain.”

WHAT: The Nude: Beauty, Grace and Form — Celebrating the Human Figure at Pink Dog Creative opening reception
WHERE: Pink Dog Gallery, 348 Depot St.
WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 4, 5-8 p.m. Exhibit continues through Saturday, April 1. Free.


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