The human body is one of the first subjects art students encounter in school, but it can be hard, in this day and age, for artists to find galleries that will show their nudes. Consequently, local arts entrepreneur David Hopes has opened his Asheville gallery for an exhibit titled Millennial Nudes, which features the work of 15 artists.
Charleston pastel artist Peggy Howe is one of them.
“This woman is very happy that we’re doing this show,” Hopes reveals. “She was complaining that the atmosphere in Charleston was precluding nudes, and since that’s what she does, she was upset by that. She looks like your granny — she’s a very surprising person to be doing mostly male nudes.”
Hopes paints nudes himself — both male and female — and actually got in a bit of hot water once, when he displayed his “Double Portrait” too prominently in the front window of his former Patton Avenue studio.
The 30 pieces now on exhibit at The Balcony Gallery include charcoals, oils, pastels, photographs and sculpture. Photographer Kate Hamister submitted three tastefully striking nude self-portraits. ” … Her mother brought those in,” Hopes says with a smile. “I’m thinking, ‘Whoa! Understanding woman!'”
He invited artists from across the country to submit their work, and received quite a variety of treatments. Some are realistic, unforgiving — others more soft and impressionistic. Local art-scene mainstay and gallery owner Connie Bostic contributed a large black-and-white charcoal celebrating the voluptuous female, plus a small, innocently human-colored canvas.
Michael Gilboy’s “Nude With Mirrors” and “Jean’s Studio” are fascinating, angular interpretations. Local artist Kenn Kotara offers a classy female-and-male nude study, done in black and red charcoal, respectively. One of the most disturbing pieces is a way-strange abstract by Theo Salvucci, titled “Standing Nude.” This very manly woman, boasting oddly altered sexual equipment, brings to mind the somewhat savage 1952 oil Woman, I, executed by Willem de Kooning.
“There are a number of charcoals,” Hopes says. “A lot of nudes that were submitted are in black and white, and so I had to get some colorful ones to balance it out.” Connie Lyon’s three pastels, “Reclining Nude,” “She” and “Mirror, Mirror” are gentle female images, and the oil painting “Silence” — by New York artist Jenine Gehl — engenders a very peaceful effect.
Hendersonville sculptor Jill Allen contributed two wildly funny pieces, “Said and Done” and “Contemplating My Unique Circumstance,” the latter a string-bean-shaped woman sitting atop a giant brain (a work that owes as much to the claymation of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas as to past chisel masters).
“I think Jill’s work is lots of fun,” gloats Hopes.
Through the meaningful shading of a back or shoulder, Chad Windham merely suggests forms and shapes in his black-and-white photos. Likewise, Sandy Davoren’s “David and the Clouds” is an impressionistic portrait layout.
But Sara Brown’s photo “Boy” celebrates pure inhibition. Brown also sent Hopes some other pictures, which he deemed “maybe not for general taste,” noting, “But I thought that one was pretty.” He comments on what he sees as sort of a double standard in the genre: “There’s a power in a male nude that has been diffused in the female nude. We’re used to that being a commodity. There’s some sort of mystique about a naked man that is lost from naked women, simply because we’ve seen so many.
“Most of these pieces are by women,” he adds. “Most of the male nudes are by women, and a lot of nudes that were not accepted were also by women. So most of the artists in the show are women, and most of the people doing male nudes are, [too], so I think things are changing a little bit.”
The gallery owner displays three of his own oils in Millennial Nudes, and so far, there have been no complaints about the man at full-mast in “Double Portrait” — or about Max Bullock’s “Millennium Anxiety,” in which a man comes to grips with Y2K.
“One doesn’t know whether people don’t care, or whether the wrong people didn’t know this was here,” Hopes concedes. “My gallery downtown displayed nudes, and there were a lot of problems, over there. An interesting part was that nobody told me that there were problems until they [had been] going on for a month. They were calling everybody [else], and they never said to me, ‘Can’t you take these paintings out of the window?’ When I finally found out about it, we moved them. So I don’t know what the atmosphere is like in Asheville. It could be that it’s better, it could be that people just don’t pay attention — either of those is good. If they don’t pay attention, then you can get away with stuff. But I don’t think anything here would be thought of as pornography.”
Hopes also wears other hats: He runs a theater company called Black Swan, acts locally (he appeared in last weekend’s The Normal Heart at Diana Wortham), and is a professor of literature and humanities at UNCA. He plans to expand to a larger art space near the French Broad River, early next year. “I’ve actually thought about opening a room in [the new] gallery just devoted to nudes. Just have an ongoing display of that, because there seems to be not that much opportunity for showing.”