Artists in the pink

Anton Lambaart works on a piece for ‘‘The Nude’’. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Anton Lambaart works on a piece for ‘‘The Nude’’. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Dunedin’s Fringe Festival aims to bring experimental contemporary art to a wider audience, so the Otago Art Society has embraced an age-old practice with a twist in its latest exhibition, ‘‘The Nude’’,  Rebecca Fox discovers.

In its 143-year history, the Otago Arts Society has never held an exhibition of nude art.

That is about to change with its Fringe Festival exhibition ''The Nude''.

It took people's reaction to a life-size nude painting, Willow, by Anton Lambaart, in the Edinburgh Realty exhibition last year to get OAS members thinking.

Visitors to the gallery either appreciated it or turned away from it immediately and looked elsewhere. It sold straight away.

''It provoked a reaction and became a focal point,'' OAS president Doug Hart said.

Given the Fringe Festival is about being experimental and challenging people, the OAS wanted to be thought provoking.

''We all started out nude, it's only as we get older [that] we get prudish about being nude. We need to get over ourselves, people have been painting nudes for centuries,'' OAS member Jenny Longstaff said.

Jenny Longstaff’s Poke. Photo: Jenny Longstaff
Jenny Longstaff’s Poke. Photo: Jenny Longstaff
Art featuring nude figures dates back to at least the 5th and 6th centuries BC, although its popularity has waxed and waned over the years.

The rise of Christianity saw nude art decrease dramatically until it became more respectable during the rediscovery of classical antiquity in the 13th century in Italy.

Longstaff says there is a story about how William Hodgkins, father of Frances, used to sneak out to life drawing classes and return with works tucked under his arm so they could not be seen.

Lambaart believes nude art is again having a rediscovery after a lull when people confused nude art and pornography.

''You can't put art in the same category. You have to put it in context; it is art.''

The exhibition has been a challenge for many OAS members who have never drawn, painted or sculpted nudes before.

''People have had fun doing it and have stepped outside their comfort zones,'' Hart says.

''People have explored different ways of what a nude is, not necessarily evoking a human form - it could be a denuded landscape.''

Annie Pepers is one of the artists who has taken a different approach, with her work Stripped.

Metamorphosis (detail), by Doug Hart .
Metamorphosis (detail), by Doug Hart .
She is a landscape painter and has not drawn people before. Her husband suggested the idea of doing something ''stripped back''.

''I thought cars are quite good. I could strip them back and put them in a field.''

Pepers took inspiration from a past trip to the Chatham Islands, remembering a paddock where all cars went to die as it was too expensive to ship them back to the mainland.

But she also challenged herself with another work, painting a figure of a lady in a blue moon, a ''nude moon''.

Lambaart, on the other hand, paints nudes as part of his everyday practice and painting Shame features on the publicity for the exhibition.

''I come to art more classically.''

He is also working on a modern take on the Rokeby Venus, a painting by Diego Velazquez, the leading artist of the Spanish Golden Age. Completed between 1647 and 1651, the work depicts the goddess Venus in a sensual pose, lying on a bed and looking into a mirror held by the Roman god of physical love, her son Cupid.

''It's an opportunity to tell a story.''

Longstaff was quite shocked when she realised what she had created with her photographic work for the exhibition.

Annie Pepers with Stripped. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Annie Pepers with Stripped. Photo: Peter McIntosh
She had been playing around for years with photographs of her hands, taken after realising how important they are to everyday life.

Longstaff, who was a nude model in her younger days, then used her usual practice of kaleidoscope and symmetry on the photographs of her hands.

''I didn't expect to come up with this - the carnal and phallic overtones.''

Hart, who usually creates works using industrialised animals and buildings, had a lot of fun coming up with a different work .

He chose to take Birth of Venus, a painting by the Italian artist Sandro Botticelli and ''metamorphose her'' using Photoshop, distorting elements but keeping others such as the flowers and shells.

''It's a bit of fun.''

The exhibition also has a serious side as it is a fundraiser. Last year, the OAS's Fringe exhibition was the ''Year of the Dog'' and raised funds for guide dogs and charities for the blind. This year, the OAS has chosen bowel cancer research as its recipient and hopes to raise awareness of the illness through the exhibition.

''While we have no awards for this exhibition, if someone is cured of bowel cancer as result of hearing about it here then that is the award.''

The exhibition
‘‘The Nude’’ runs at the Otago Art Society gallery, Dunedin Railway Station, from March 22 to April 3.

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