When you look at a painting of a male nude, what is your first reaction? What about a nude woman? Why is the female nude synonymous with sexuality? What is it about the male figure that often scares people away while the female figure appears more inviting? In classical art, the nude is thought of as a representation of humanity in its purest state.
When you look at a painting of a male nude, what is your first reaction? What about a nude woman? Why is the female nude synonymous with sexuality? What is it about the male figure that often scares people away while the female figure appears more inviting?
In classical art, the nude is thought of as a representation of humanity in its purest state. But just how representative of humanity is it really? Consider the Metropolitan Museum in New York: 3 percent of the artists in the modern art section are women, but 83 percent of the nudes are female. Why has art history relegated women as subjects rather than creators?
The simple answer: we live in a sexist society. One of the most prominent painters of the 20th century, Georgia O’Keefe said, “The men liked to put me down as the best woman painter, but I think I am one of the best painters.” She broke turf for many female artists who had been making paintings but were not taken seriously by the art world. In 1946 she was the first woman to have a retrospective at the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York.
Here in P-town, there are fresh perspectives on the age-old art of the nude. Brenda Dunn is a local artist who has been obsessed with drawing women since childhood. While she should have been learning her ABCs, she had much bigger things on her mind: figure, shape, legs and curves. Her painted lines are full of confidence, displaying female figures born purely of the imagination.
When asked where her vivacious women come from, she responded, “Pure imagination. I’ve been getting a lot of requests from people to do portrait pin-ups lately, but I still haven’t done any yet.”
Dunn is heavily influenced by the old-school 1940s style of figure drawing by designers such as Bill Glegren, where women are sexy and sweet. The way she sees it, the women she paints are sexy, but not trying to get sexual attention in the sleazy way. Her women are beautiful but never skanky.
In contrast to the fashion and entertainment’s images of waiflike and anorexic women, Dunn consciously portrays women with voluptuous and healthy bodies. Unlike the countless passive and vulnerable nudes painted by men over the history, Dunn’s women are always bold and powerful.
In the end, Dunn believes being a woman in your own body is what it’s all about, and just being secure is totally empowering.
Her most recent paintings emphasize graphic line and curves with simple color choices and elegant detailing in tattoos and body adornments. The best place to catch her work is at Last Thursday on Alberta Street and First Thursday in the Pearl District next to the Pacific Northwest College of Art.