By Jonathan Kamholtz, September 23, 2017
The Place of the Nude: “9th Annual NUDE: Exploring the Uncovered Human Form”
In this show, it seems clear that to change the nude, we will have to change its context. Martin Beck’s pastel on prepared paper, “Hunter” (2016) has us still in the familiar territory of the reclining female nude, but she is not in a conventional studio. She has succumbed to gravity, lying on a bed with draperies, a modern-day Diana, possibly exhausted after a day in the forest, who has just dropped her gun. In her frank nakedness, there is a hint of Manet’s Olympia. She is asleep with her shotgun within easy reach. If it weren’t for the gun (and the title), it would be less clear what to make of the dog that lies on the floor beneath her (or perhaps floating just above it?), who is surely among the most expressive mammals depicted in the show. The dog is staring out at us, but as to what is on its mind, that’s hard to say. It is hungry, or distrustful, or rueful, or angry, or patient, or insistently curious, or sleepy. You know how dogs are. All of the painting’s representations of consciousness are concentrated in the dog. Is the whole image the dream of a sleeping dog? It does seem as if we’ve entered a dream space, as we seem to have in Beck’s “Color Field” (2017). Here a woman is in, or on, or floating just above a bed, probably asleep, possibly falling. Despite the title, it didn’t seem to me that this brought color field painting to mind, but she does seem to be about to be engulfed by the sorts of intense pastel colors used by Redon. It is as if she is about to forsake the world of her physical body and enter the world of art, a creature made by marks on a page who is about to be transported to a world of marks on a page. Beck’s work reminds us that dream space is another geography, besides the artist’s studio, where nudity is right at home.
Hunter Kissel, September 4, 2017
The Human Body Reconsidered
A nude woman reclining on her back extends her left arm towards the viewer in Martin Beck’s The Hunter (2016). A dog rests at the foot of the platform from which she lies and a shotgun is settled next to the figure. Beck’s pastel drawing evokes certain classical trends through the incorporation of fabric as both a prop and cropping mechanism, the use of a direct light source, and the insertion of the dog—a dog symbolized fidelity in many nude paintings made in the pre-Modern era. What distinguishes Beck’s portrait from those by old masters, among other elements of the drawing, is the depiction of the shotgun placed near the woman’s hand, pointing away from her, seemingly ready to be grabbed and employed. An overt insinuation of protection, the gun in this work may imply that to be nude is to be vulnerable. What’s more, with his inclusion of classical tropes, Beck suggests that the nude genre itself is possibly more susceptible than one may think, protected by the likes of museums and history books, and in actuality able to be redefined or modified. The Hunter assumes that historical precedents are merely guidelines and not rules. The portrayals of bodies in NUDE prevail as reminders that nothing is certain, particularly when it comes to ourselves.
Left: Martin Beck, Color Field, pastel on prepared paper, 2017. Right: Martin Beck, The Hunter, pastel on prepared paper, 2017.