The human body has been one of the most popular motifs in art since the beginning of time. Although universal for all of us, the experience of a body could not be more personal and intimate. No other art form captures the human body in its purest form: The Nude. Throughout history, the adoration for the nude has fluctuated. Once cherished in Ancient Greece, the nude was almost abandoned throughout the Middle Ages, only to be reborn in the Renaissance. With the recent and common practice of banning nude content on most social media platforms – no matter whether for a valid reason or due to accidentally flagging a piece of art – it is a question whether we live in a time where the nude, as an art form, is celebrated not only by the public but also by imperfect artificial intelligence. Nevertheless, looking at the art presented at the NBB GALLERY, many contemporary artists embrace the motif in their own unique way. Ranging from deeply personal topics to commentary on the future of humankind, the body is a versatile object for artists to work with.
The artist Scout Zabinski (b. 1997) tells a story about herself in each of her canvases. Her journey began with paintings of herself with a bag over her head, which gradually developed into self-portraits. Not only did she overcome self-consciousness about showing her face, but her art is also a way of coping with past experiences, including self-hatred, eating disorders, and abuse - all deeply personal topics that linger in Scout Zabinski's nude self-portraits. By expressing her experiences through paint on canvas, Zabinski goes through a catharsis or what she describes as meditation. Reflecting on her work, Zabinski asked herself whether she comes across as self-obsessed. In fact, the opposite is true: "I realized the art I wanted to create was much too personal to put on anyone else's body."
"Warm summer rain ain't like rain back home but it's close enough" is the title of Douglas Cantor's (b. 1989) intimate portrait of a woman. Lying on a dark green bed, the naked figure looks behind her back, directly at the viewer. Or perhaps she is looking at the bottle with two glasses on a table in the foreground, which divides the space between her and the viewer. The artist allows us to see through his point of view into his private life. Like in many other Cantor paintings, the depicted scenery seems idealized and nostalgic. Mixing pastel tones, bright colors, and black accents, Cantor usually depicts what is relevant to him. Underneath the romanticized surface of Cantor's art lies a deep exploration of his emotions. As the title suggests, the artist is searching for a sense of home in a strange, new place. The longing for home merges with his new life, creating a unique synthesis of aesthetics. We might suggest that painting is a way of dealing with Douglas Cantor's personal circumstances. However, the message is comforting for those with similar experiences.
A vision of a new world is what concerns the French artist Théo Viardin (b. 1992) in his current work and with it comes a concept of a new ‘human’ or a ‘being’. In 2022, Théo Viardin preoccupied himself with painting large scale humanoid figures with substantial build and melancholic expressions. In muted orange and dark blue color palette Viardin presents his intuitive notion of the Utopia. In Viardin’s understanding, the Utopia is a world he can not only escape to but also a logical outcome for our current civilization. At first sight, the figures seem to remind us of characters from a sci-fi novel. Naturally, these figures are nude, genderless, and in their pure form. Their limbs seem to be deformed into new and original structures. Viardin's humanoid figures, although unfamiliar and new, have the potential to become "comfort characters" for the viewers, implying that there is a new, utopian world waiting for us, which we need not fear.
Douggie Cantor in the Bath, 61 × 61 cm, oil on canvas, 2021
One of the central aspects of Sophie Vallance-Cantor’s (b. 1993) practice is self-portraiture. Alongside depictions of her surroundings, the artist often represents herself accompanied by cats, tigers, or exotic plants. Vallance-Cantor frequently invites us to enter her intimate realm, apparent in her portrayals of herself in her favorite pajamas or in the nude. “My paintings have become a world of my own where the viewer is invited to observe but not partake,” Vallance-Cantor explained to émergent magazine. Breaking the taboo in fine art, she depicts her tattoos and armpit hair in a natural way that avoids a forced appearance. In other nudes, Sophie Vallance-Cantor captures her husband Douglas Cantor from her perspective. With folded hands and a shy gaze averted from the viewer, these works evoke a strong sense of empathy. Overall, the experience of Vallance-Cantor’s art is best described by this feeling of connection.
© Photos: NBB Gallery