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LAL’s ‘The Nude’ exhibit explores the human figure for 27th year with ‘Self & Others’ theme

'Back to Back - My Mother and My Sister' by Gaela Erwin (Photos of art from LAL)


Special to KyForward

The Lexington Art League launches its 2013 exhibition season on Friday, Jan. 11 with the gallery bursting with the experience of being human.

For the past 27 years, LAL has presented The Nude, an exhibition exploring the figure in contemporary art. This year’s theme, Self & Others, specifically challenged artists to consider the nude and its influences on who we are and how we relate to others.

'Self Portrait' by Kayla Medina

That concentration on Self & Others is what led Becky Alley, LAL’s exhibitions and programs director, to expand the visual art offerings associated with the annual Nude, which is open through March 3.

“When we asked artists to consider Self & Others as an subtheme to The Nude, we were certainly referencing self-portraiture and figure study, but we were also asking them to think about the self stripped down to its barest bones, to consider conceptual undercurrents wrapped up in the figure,” Alley said. “Recent work by Gaela Erwin, an artist who has worked in self-portraiture for more than 20 years, seemed an interesting extension of that idea, one so robust that we added a second exhibition of her work to be shown concurrently with The Nude. Factor in Sarah Gross’s installation of If I Lost You Would I Cry in LAL’s Project Space, and LAL’s Loudoun House gallery will be overflowing with compelling contemporary art in January and February.”

Erwin’s exhibition, My Mother, My Sister, Myself: Portraits by Gaela Erwin, represents the artist’s first departure from self-portraiture in more than two decades. After receiving a grant from the Italian Cultural Institute of Louisville, Erwin traveled to Rome to spend several weeks studying the intense realism of Caravaggio. Inspired by his use of light, Erwin began painting portraits of her mother, who is in declining health due to dementia.

“At one point in my mother’s illness I had to make frequent trips to her North Carolina home, and I always left feeling exhausted and grief-stricken,” said Erwin. “Worse still, I found myself resenting time away from the studio even though I knew I was doing the right thing. I reframed my visits as an extension of my studio practice and began photographing my mother and turning the images into portraits. I came to see visiting my mother in a new light – literally – and the experience allowed my mother and I to connect in a way that her illness typically didn’t allow. Mom, who had always enjoyed being photographed, relaxed during the sessions. They made her feel useful to my work, which she valued, and it was her way of nurturing me.” 

Erwin’s portraits exploring the evolving relationships with her mother and her sister offer a deeply personal investigation of Self & Others that mirrors the contextual themes presented on a larger scale in The Nude.

Featuring more than 50 works of art culled together from more than 600 submissions, The Nude, which is supported by print partner MD Update, features the work of artists from four countries and 16 states, including Kentucky. Juror Ebony Patterson, assistant professor of painting at University of Kentucky, noted that contemporary artists are using the human figure to delve into issues of sexuality, identity, gender politics, fertility, disability, beauty, love, and vulnerability.

Alexas Double by Christine Wuenschel

“The figure, especially the nude figure, is powerful on its own because it’s absolutely universal; we’re all humans and we all have a nude state of being,” said Patterson. “Because it is such a raw subject, it can easily carry the burdens of this human experience. The Nude: Self & Others demonstrates the power of the figure to reveal social, political, and personal issues that are central to modern life.”

The Nude: Self & Others, If I Lost You Would I Cry, and My Mother, My Sister, Myself open to the public on Jan. 12, but eager audiences can see these highly anticipated exhibitions at a special preview party on Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. at LAL’s Loudoun House. The preview party features hors d’oeuvres by Dupree Catering, a live fire performance by Sonya Blades, music by DJ Mick Jeffries, and a tasting by Pure Blue Vodka. Artists from all exhibitions will be in attendance, as will Patterson. Tickets are $25 ($20 for LAL Members) and can be purchased online here, via phone at 859-254-7024, or at the door on the night of the event.

The public opening reception coincides with LAL’s monthly 4th Friday on Jan. 25, 6-9pm. For $5 (free for LAL members), guests will enjoy complimentary light refreshments and a cash bar by DaRae & Friends Catering and music by DJ Dr. Gram. February’s 4th Friday, on Feb. 22, 6-9 p.m., features acoustic music by Josh Fletcher and gives patrons a final chance to see these exhibitions before they close on March 3.

“LAL’s upcoming exhibitions challenge our community to reflect on ourselves and our connections to each other,” said Stephanie Harris, LAL’s executive director. “Through The Nude, Gaela Erwin’s exhibition, and the installation by Sarah Gross, LAL is setting the tone for the rest of 2013, and we are looking forward to an intelligent, thoughtful, and extraordinary year of art for everyone.”

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