Think about the history of nude portraiture. Which paintings come to mind? Manet's "Olympia," Goya's "Nude Maja" or perhaps Courbet's "Origin of the World" if you're getting real? Whatever impromptu string of scantily clad portraits spring to mind, odds are most were painted by men.
German-based artist Susannah Martin is doing her best to uproot this rather uniform trajectory, painting the female body from a -- wait for it -- female point of view. Her contemporary takes on the classical nude imbues female forms with an independent spirit removed from male judgment or approval. These women aren't on display; they're simply doing their thing in the great outdoors.
"The Gatherers" Oil on Canvas, 44" x 76"
"For me, the female gaze, has always been missing from the available stock of nudes in art," Martin explained in an email to The Huffington Post. "There are a few notable exceptions like Alice Neel, Jenny Saville or more recently Ellen Altfest, but for the most part it is the male gaze that has defined the boundaries of what a nude can be."
Martin paints bodies, both male and female, adult and child, stripped of possessions (and clothing) and swallowed up by unbridled wilderness. The subjects climb trees, wade through streams and frolic in fields, at once at home in their naked bodies and yet seemingly unaware of them. Clearly uninterested in the erotic implications of a naked state, Martin explores other, more subtle, effects of existing in the nude.
"I am interested in exploring the potential that the nude has to speak from a socio-anthropological position. I would like to give the nude a little time 'off-duty' as an object for virtual sexual consumption or even aesthetic criticism... My mind wants to contemplate man in his undisguised, independent and natural form and consider the source of his dislocation. I am interested in our relationship to our bodies which for me mirrors our relationship to nature as a whole. Our increasing desire to manipulate and 'improve' the body is simply a continuation of what we have been doing to all of nature for hundreds of years, with devastating consequences."
"River" Pastel on Paper, 47" x 28"
Although Martin's portraits are idyllic as can be, they still communicate in the hyper-realistic visual language often associated with virtual imagery. The combination of meticulously rendered details and humans in such a blissful and elemental natural state creates an interesting juxtaposition between contemporary and classic.
"I am like a scientist in her lab; proposing one hypothesis after another, testing it and seeing what (if any) element of truth it holds," Martin continued. "The audience is testing along with me and discovering their own hidden truths. What they discover may be similar to what I discover, but not necessarily, we all have our own unique experience of the world. I am always trying to grasp and describe a moment of pure being because that is where we all meet and understand one another and what is essential."
What do you think of Martin's take on the nude form? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.