Trendysomething in SoMo
It's a Nude World: Prominent Houston art figures bare it all at Heyd Fontenotshow
An arresting ensemble of ink-spiked drawings by Austin-based artist Heyd Fontenot currently populates the temporary location of Inman Gallery at 3917 Main St. The collection, unveiled on Friday evening, is notable not simply for focusing on the craft of figure drawing, but also for Fontenot's chosen subjects: local members of the art arena, depicted in the nude.
While the art world corridors are typically buttoned up and a bit frosty, for Fontenot, It's a Nude, Nude, Nude, Nude, Nude, Nude World.
The artist has cast his subjects based on marathon nude photo shoots he conducted in a studio at Isabella Court during July 2010. Rather than recruiting hot bods, Inman Gallery simply posted an open call.
"People completely volunteered," Inman Gallery's Lori Cassady says of the community's reaction.
Fontenot has been working in this vein for a decade now, and while he typically depicts figures with whom he's well acquainted, his current group of subjects were almost entirely strangers. The process was akin to a nude portraiture speed dating.
On the roster of au naturel art world icons is the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston's director Bill Arning, Menil Collection curator Michelle White, Papercity arts and society scion Catherine Anspon and Kerry Inman herself. Also breaking out in the buff are gallerista-turned-Museum of Drawing matriarch Apama Mackey, Lawndale Art Center's Dennis Nance and Glassell School CORE fellow Nick Barbee.
In the drawings, Fontenot has montaged fragments of the models' bodies so that these personalities are juxtaposed into compelling, moody compositions. There's an ethereal spirituality to Fontenot's portraits, as many of the characters are gazing upward in a prayer-like position. The element of disrobing amplifies the raw emotions on view.
Are they seeking attention from a well-funded foundation? Beseeching collectors for a generous check? Or perhaps repenting for their vanity?
"It's sort of a reference to religious iconography, but not a complete impetus for the composition," Fontenot says of the figures' gazes.
Undoubtedly, this is a rare glimpse into an otherwise at times impenetrable art world. More than a peeping tom escapade, the exhibition is like a yearbook of naked art scenesters — it captures a moment in the cast of Houston art characters.
Gallery personnel Cassady and Patrick Reynolds have stepped up as nude role models, as has their CTRL gallery neighbor Bryan Miller. Inman-repped artists David Aylsworth, Katrina Moorhead and New York-based Darren Waterson have also disrobed. And then, there's yours truly.
In November, Inman invited the models to stop by the gallery for a sneak peek (and preferential purchasing) of the works on view in It's a Nude, Nude, Nude, Nude, Nude, Nude World. When I visited the gallery during the finishing touches of the current installation, I cocked my head once I noticed that one drawing featuring my cock was not on display.
After probing Cassady, I learned that Fontenot's prolific output meant that a few drawings were left out of the display. Essentially, I was too big to fit on the gallery walls.
Fret not — wide-eyed collectors may still get a glimpse by requesting to see the stowaways, which are currently under wraps in the gallery's flat files.
Humor aside, Fontenot should be credited for confidently striding the line between fine art drawing and vulgar overexposure.
"There's so much bawdy joking about genitalia," he says. "Even for people in the arts who are really accustomed to seeing nudity in art, there's still a little twinkle of dirty jokes . . . and the titillation."
While this twinkle adds a psychological layer to the drawings, the artist admits, "Sometimes I get tired of it. I think, 'Aren't we above this? Aren't we past this?' No, we're really not. No matter how educated you are, there's still that reaction that's really human to make jokes."
It's a Nude, Nude, Nude, Nude, Nude, Nude World is on view through April 2.
Editor's note: Read Steven Thomson's earlier column on his modeling experience, posing for the drawings:
My life as a nude model ... purely tasteful exhibitionism, of course