Sam Francis

Untitled, 1984

106.7 X 73 inch


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Revelations and Taboos: Unveiling the Naked Truths in Art

Revelations and Taboos: Unveiling the Naked Truths in Art

By Andrew Bay, UK

160 years ago in 1863, Edouard Manet scandalised the art world with his painting "Olympia," depicting a luscious Parisian brothel 'fille de joie' and her black maid. It's been abundantly clear, since Manet opened the gates of modernity with "Olympia," that nudity isn't merely a peripheral aspect of art. It's a profound, timeless framework aptly designed to explore complex societal constructs such as aesthetics, resplendence and eroticism. Notable contemporary artists such as  Araki Nobuyoshi, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Helmut Newton, have contributed significantly to this discourse, unraveling the historical significance of the nude form in their artistic praxis. Throughout History, the evolution of the representation of nudity embraced cultural nuances which reflected the historicaland ideological landscapes of their time, from Ancient Greece to the Renaissance.

In the late 20th century, the art world witnessed the momentous contributions of Araki Nobuyoshi, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Helmut Newton, who significantly impacted the portrayal of nudity in art. They emerged as agents provocateurs, challenging the norms of artistic representation, unlocking the secrets of a complex realm of expression. 

Japanese artist Araki Nobuyoshi disrupted the normative perception of explicit graphic content with his classic "Kinbaku" works.

Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, the American maestro, stirred controversy by exploring the raw intensity of fringe sexuality, through the lens of his "X Portfolio".

Helmut Newton is a German-Australian luminary in fashion photography, whose provocative "Big Nudes," reinvented poise and aplomb for a generation of young women. 

Lastly, American conceptual artist Man Ray introduced a unique framework with his avant-garde photography techniques, which he ingeniously blended in virtuoso works like  "Le Violon d'Ingres."

Etched in the annals of Art history, nudity emerges as an ever-evolving subject.  For some commentators, it is the grand spectacle of superficial emanations of  human decadence; for others, it is just an exuberant exaltation and glorification of hard won social and aesthetic freedoms.  The discourse on the significance of nudity in art is an open ended, intricate diplomatic effort.

If we zoom in on the data points, we find out that suppression of the freedom of expression in all its forms, has always been part and parcel of the artists' stark reality. Across centuries, artists have persistently gained ground and recognition for their right to explore the human physical form.

Fast forward to the context of contemporary art and the human body in the nude still stands as a robust probe into an array of topics such as gender politics, self  harm and body shaming.
A notable artist still working today, using nudity as a textural element in their works is American photographer Spencer Tunick. He organises large scale nude shoots, and one of his most recent ones was entitled "Sea of Hull," after the city of Hull in the UK where it took place with 3,000 naked volunteers, covered in blue body paint.

British painter Jenny Saville was part of the original cast of the Young British Artists in the 1990s. She works and lives in Oxford and her work almost exclusively focusses on nudity from the perspective of the female body, delivering a raw portrayal of human existence.

Nudity stands as a cornerstone in the edifice of art, a pivotal and indomitable force in this ongoing historical tableau.

Nobuyoshi, Mapplethorpe, Newton, Man Ray, Tunick and Saville are enduring visionaries. Their works enhanced and consolidated the labyrinthine framework of this artistic legacy.




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