In a world of AI art generator apps, a nude portrait, painted from life or from a sensitively choreographed photoshoot to reference back to as a stimulus to memory, offers a perfectly clashing antithesis to the synthetic. More than that, the nude as a form of visual art is an antidote to the unnatural that keeps us grounded in the primal.
Figurative painter Hamish Blakely’s artworks, of which we’re lucky to have an original at ArtÓ, ‘Femme Doree’, invites us to have a visceral experience with art. Blakely’s contemporary, realist style captures the texture of the human body in concentrated detail adding a quality bordering on the spiritual to loose tendrils of hair, creases created at a bent joint or the shadows of the ‘dimples of Venus’.
An artist’s skill in capturing the body’s sensuous topography and presenting it with aesthetic success can mean the viewer forgets that behind a finished nude painting lies a real person, a real moment where artist and model met in space and time, sharing a unique encounter, literally sharing oxygen, and communicating in ways beyond the purely verbal. Life modelling allows for an exploration of this body language and connection.
We presented the model’s perspective – where the physicality of being a nude subject transcended nerves or potential embarrassment – in our first blog focusing on life modelling and are delighted to get the artist’s angle from Blakely. For him, the experiences of sitter and artist for a nude painting meet in a "very enticing blend" and he agrees it’s not simply a case of the model being brave in bearing all.
“There is more going on isn't there?,’ he agrees. “Something not just academic but also sacred, so that trust is implicit. A dimension that some may not have imagined.” Blakely depicts his wife Gail in many of his paintings and she is the subject of oil on board ‘Femme Doree’. While many may assume this adds a level of familiarity to an otherwise intimate situation, for Blakely the inverse is possibly true.
“When Gail and I have set up our photo shoots, I am probably the most nervous person in the room; she is offering so much more than me and my clicking camera,” explains Blakely. “I want to be efficient and, possibly, match her imagination, which is fairly impossible as Gail's ideas begin to leave mine in the dust. Nevertheless, we know one another well. We both know we don't have to rush and can check the images as we go and, if necessary, re-shoot. It is, after all, a creative examination – not a mission.”
“This is not quite the same as painting from life which, time permitting, we also do. In either discipline, there is a sense of formality that takes over,” add Blakely. “Neither awkward nor tense, but the climate asks for reverence. Even when a sequence of poses may be more provocative, there is always a 'professional distance', and it’s automatic. There is this wonderful hush and search for what the face and body are doing and expressing, and if it could be done better or could say more.”
Blakely’s dedication to his creative process, and recognition of its effect on both parties, is as compelling and enlightening as the artworks he produces. This is the gift in knowing the story behind an artist and their practice and not responding purely to the visible result. When viewing ‘Femme Doree’ in this light, the piece resonates even more palpably with meaning and energy. Nudes have this capacity for potency, rawness and impact.