Men are always being accused of mentally undressing women. Do women do the same to men? I wonder. George Grosz, one of my all-time favorite artists, a German satirist from the 1920s and 30s, used to “undress” women all the time and his water colors of women in the street wearing transparent clothing, pubic hair and all, the way men (like himself) look at them are truly hilarious. Throughout history, male artists have always preferred to paint female nudes. But what if women turned the tables on men and drew them nude with everything hanging out (literally)? Not a pretty sight, I’m afraid. In the 1960s, the artist, Alice Neele painted some great male nudes totally exposed, but her work was always considered somewhat prurient or “shocking.”
Many years ago, I did a series of large cardboard cutouts based on the real estate developers I dealt with on a regular basis. I thought of them as “thugs in expensive suits” but when I would get really angry, I would wonder how they would look without their clothes. It was my hostile way of getting even with them for being so arrogant and winning so often. Out of that random thought, I created a Mens’ Bathhouse series: cut-out paper dolls of real men (not Ken dolls), about 14” high, wearing removable towels or swim trunks….very funny but unfortunately, too x-rated for me to ever show in public. (I lack Alice Neele’s guts, or should I say “balls”?)
I think there’s a reason, other than plain sexism, why we often show women in varying states of undress, but rarely give men a similar honor: naked men are just not that pretty to look at. When I began my Bathhouse series, I discovered that my limited life experience (married to one man for fifty years) had left me without a great deal of information to draw upon so I went to the local bookstore and found the perfect swipe file, a book of a hundred or so photographs of frontally nude New Yorkers, men and women, all ages, all walks of life. The photographer had simply asked everyone he met to pose for him with clothes and without, and a surprisingly large percentage accepted. The book became a great resource file; everything I ever wanted to know about naked men, without having to become involved with them.
The truth is, most people look better with their clothes on. Unless someone spends endless hours exercising to say nothing of expensive surgery and exhausting diets, most exposed bodies are not very attractive. Often, parts that should be big are too small; parts that should be small, are too big. That’s why Mother Nature invented romance; nothing like the euphoria of a love affair to keep you oblivious to what’s actually in front of you. Aside from wanting to even the score between myself and the thugs who always seemed to win the zoning battles, I wanted to say something about the “objectification” of women through most of art history. Why do artists paint naked women and not naked men? Maybe because women prefer to surprise you... By the way, I glued the fig leaves on just now to spare my readers unnecessary distress.
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