Visual Arts

Naked truths: The stories behind four entries in 'Nude 2010'

All of the artists in the Lexington Art League's Nude 2010 exhibit have one thing in common: They work with the human figure.

But the exhibit boasts a wide variety of artists and approaches, from a floor-to-ceiling oil painting to a sculpture made only from red string and resin.

To unveil this year's Nude show, which opens Friday night at the LAL @ Loudoun House gallery, we talked to four of the artists to get the stories behind their work.

Ashley Watson

Ashley Watson didn't set out to create nudes. The Lexington artist wanted to make statements about feminism and animal rights.

"My art practice is my activism, and my activism is my art practice," says Watson, 30, who has two pieces in Nude 2010. "It is very common to use your body to communicate ideas in feminist art."

Watson's pieces in the show are a pair of images from her series A Bird at My Table, which portrays a person — Watson — crouched over with her elbows sticking up to resemble a chicken or a turkey in settings including a grocery store or a dining-room table.

While the images look like digital manipulations, Watson says her method was much more analog.

She found the background images on Google, converted the color photos to black-and-white, and made other adjustments. Then she rear-projected the images on a screen and crouched down in the bird form as her husband took the photos. The oven-roasted color of her skin was a happy accident, she says.

Watson says she understands not everyone will be interested in her cause or share her point of view. But she is grateful to have a chance to get her work in front of a big audience, like the Nude crowd.

"I want to impact and inform people," she says.

Don Ament

Don Ament is used to working with fine medium-format cameras to shoot detailed landscapes that are frequently blown up to poster size or larger. When he decided to shoot nudes, he went with what he jokingly calls a "toy camera."

"Well, it does have a 'cloudy' and 'sunny' setting on the back," he says, showing his Polaroid iZone2000 with blue sparkles on the front. The camera takes thumb-size pictures on little strips of film that Ament then scans into his computer and adjusts in PhotoShop.

There is a lot of adjusting to do. Because the iZone cameras and their film have not been made for years, most of the available film expired in 2007 or earlier. Ament scours eBay and other Web sites looking for film cartridges, which he refrigerates in an attempt to keep them fresh.

Still, there are light streaks and other quirks that seep into the images, and there are ghastly colors, such as blonde hair turned green. Even after Ament has adjusted for all of those things, he has grainy, dark images.

"What caught me was it gives an elemental expression of light and form," Ament says. "So that dictated how I worked, looking for classic beauty in an old-world medium."

Ament says the Polaroids have changed how he has approached other work.

"Usually I go in knowing exactly what I am looking for," he says. "But my recent images are more open and airy — looser."

Asked if he would shoot nudes with something other than his "toy camera," Ament says, "I may have to, if I want to keep doing this. It's getting harder to find film for this camera."

Dongfeng Li

Selecting Dongfeng Li, a native of China who lives in Lexington and teaches art at Morehead State University, for the Nude exhibit might have seemed a great way to compare the traditions of figure work in China and the United States. The problem with that idea, Li says, is that there is no tradition of nude painting in China.

He says the combination of the Cultural Revolution, which essentially purged China of art from 1966 to 1976, and the prevailing attitude that women should remain covered prevented nudes, a basic of Western art training, from being part of his early education.

Li, 50, started working with nudes as a student at Southern Illinois University.

"When I work with a nude model, I still have a theme of vulnerability and fragility," Li says, "and it's not very comfortable to work with a nude and accept it as foundation training."

He says that is why his nude paintings — including Untitled, selected as part of Nude 2010 — tend to be soft, focusing more on the form than on details.

Li, who has lived in Lexington for three years, says he has been to the Art League's Nude exhibit several times and is happy to be part of it.

"It is a great show," he says, "and a great encouragement to me to stretch my boundaries."

Earlane Cox

Earlane Cox got call in 2001 from the campus director at National College, where he's the community resource coordinator.

They were moving in 2001, and the director told Cox, "You know how you say hi to that mannequin every time you come in? You have five minutes to come get her, or she's going in the Dumpster."

Cox rushed over, got her, strapped her into his Jeep and took her home, thinking she'd be a cool piece of art.

"Ginger" turned into his muse.

For a while, she just sat in his den in a T-shirt. But then Cox got out his camera and started taking pictures of Ginger, named after the Gilligan's Island character. It was in part a way for the serious amateur photographer to work with composition and get a better handle on how to shoot people.

But his Ginger pictures were really good.

Cox says that because Ginger was a stationary object, he felt challenged to find different ways to shoot her and look at her.

Last year, Cox and his friend Joyce Merritt, a Lexington attorney, attended the opening for the Nude 2009 show, and she encouraged him to enter some images of Ginger this year.

"Friends will tell you your pictures are great," Cox says. "They'll also tell you your cooking is good. Being selected for this show, and having two images selected, is a huge event in my life."

It's a huge event for Ginger, too.

"Last year, a guy offered me $1,000 for her," Cox says, "and I said no way."

After all, he almost lost her once.

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