Sally Nixon – Various Untitled (2016)

I am absofuckinglutely head over heals for Sally Nixon’s illustrations.

The thing that most people immediately note about them is the obvious: she draws women liberated from the dichotomy of simultaneously being and being aware of being seen as being.

These are unglamourous, unpretentious, unselfconscious and the realness of the results are a real breath of fresh air.

I love the detail. These women are not symbols or placeholders. They clearly are full-realized individuals with hopes, dreams and complicated interior lives. The richness with which that is communicated in the work is rare.

Note: the care with which the making of french toast is depicted, the way sweets (pancakes and cake, respectively) are best enjoyed with a hint of transgressive celebrity chic–i.e. behind sunglasses.

But what I love most about these is–despite the majority of the stuff I post to this blog–I am increasingly having a crisis of conscience w/r/t what I call unmotivated nudity.

It’s like yes, the human body is fascinating and we all like looking at nekkid folks. However, I keep thinking that while it’s visually arresting to make an arty black and white image of a beautiful nude standing atop of boulder, why is she standing there naked on it? Just because it was there? And some person with a camera said: hey, that’s going to look cool?

So to me what’s really revolutionary about Nixon’s work is that her use of nudity is 120% non-gratuitous. The characters when they are naked are naked in situations where you’d expect them to be; or where there is a reason for them to be given the circumstances. In fact, it would be awkward if they weren’t.

This has suggested two criteria for nudity in work that I am trying to figure out how to incorporate into my own work:

  1. Is there are reason for this person to be nude? Or is it merely nudity for the sake of nudity?
  2. Does the nudity tell me something about the person who is nude or does it instead render them a generic stand-in, an any person ™.

A better way to ask the last question might be: who wants to be nude, the person who is nude or the person making the image? Ideally, the answer is both. But, more often than not, the emphasis of the decision is deferred to the latter.

I mean, honestly, I just realized that the woman in the final panel brushing her teeth in the shower has a sunburn indicating she’s been to the beach. I think this image really should become the gold standard of whether or not nudity is gratuitous. Like if you can’t do at least present a person with enough detail to make them seem like a fully formed person, then you maybe really ought to questions why you insist on shooting nudes almost exclusively. Just sayin’.

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