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Jul 25, 2013

"Why I did it..."

"Why I did it..." usually begins the explanation offered by the culprit in an Agatha Christie novel – after all the shots have been fired, the body unearthed, and a tearful motive established – but in my case I wanted to explain why I deliberately chose to paint and exhibit two large outdoor nudes at Plein Air Easton last week, the most prestigious outdoor painting competition in the United States.

Okay, here is my exculpatory confession: I did it purely for shock value. You may cuff me now, Hercule Poirot.

Not that what I painted was particularly shocking – after all, we all happen to be nude under our clothes, right? But nudity can be disruptive in the present plein air scene because no one has tried to hang it in a major show for as long as I can remember. And I wanted to be the first.

Historically, there is far more to the genre of plein air than boats and barns, trees and landscapes, and intimate street scenes or floral vignettes. In fact, there is a long run of famous artists taking the nude outdoors. So the following quote explains my intention perfectly:

"If you consider for a moment, you will perceive that painting the figure in the open involves a simultaneous attack on nearly every problem in the wide domain of art. You have first of all the out-door questions of atmospheric vibration and refraction, and the consideration of the color-scale and value-scale; then, in addition to these, you have practically all the in-door problems, which include figure-composition and arrangement, in addition to the usual problems of drawing and modeling - the latter presented in a reversed and unfamiliar form, owing to the new and unexpected color-reflections from the sky and surrounding sunlit landscape."
-Birge Harrison, Landscape Painting, 1909
I couldn't put it better than that.

* * * * * * * * *

Whoa there, partner. If nakedness offends you then stop right here!

* * * * * * * * *

There is, for example, "Luncheon on the Grass" (Eduard Manet)

"Eclogue" (Kenyon Cox)

"Illusions" (Henry Brown Fuller)

Paul Cezanne

"Pomona" (Childe Hassam)

"The Bather" (Jean-Francios Millet)

"Diana" (early Auguste Renoir)

"Au Bord de la Mer" (Frederich Carl Frieseke)

"Jollen" (Anders Zorn)

"Reclining Nude" (Berthe Morisot)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau

"The Bathers, Javea" (Joaquim Sorolla y Bastida)

And of course, the well known contemporary
figurative painter, Jeremy Lipking.

In truth, from the 19th century on it can be difficult to find a major artist who didn't paint the nude outdoors at some point. So when the folks who organize and run Plein Air Easton saw my figurative portfolio last year challenged me to paint a couple for this year I said yes. Since they were on board (as was the museum venue) how could I not? I love the figure and the landscape with equal passion and am constantly looking for an opportunity to integrate them in some way.

So here are my two paintings. Given the fact I was working at a large size outside, with a maximum of six hours to execute each painting, I am happy with the results. Both nudes are now on display in Easton, MD and will remain so indefinitely.

The Red Parasol
24 x 30 | oil | en plein air
available, P.O.R.

30 x 24 | oil | en plein air
available, P.O.R.

Of course, I also painted the customary boats, barns, trees and landscapes as well since I didn't expect to sell nudes at the gala soiree. Doing so was never my intention. The nudes were hung as a statement, and hopefully to create some buzz – which they did. The Eastern Shore is a conservative place, a very conservative place actually, and my goal was to remind anyone who showed up there is a long and great tradition being overlooked at these competitions and invitationals. A worthy tradition I hope others will pursue as well.

I'll post the rest of the work from Easton soon...


7 reader comments:

Unknown said...

Yay for the figure Thomas ,! That is my passion for sure and I
love to integrate figure into landscape . your use of color and light are beautiful in these
H Couture

Tim Young said...

I wondered what you were up to, Yea for shock value.
Your paintings are beautiful, my favorite is Firefly.

Sergio Lopez said...

When I saw your title I thought you were referring to why you would do Easton, and I thought "why wouldn't you do Easton?" But this post was really interesting. I think it's really cool that the organizers of Easton actually asked you to try it. I wouldn't think to try large nudes in a place like Easton, either. Perhaps, with the grand prize going to essentially a figure painted outdoors, the tides are turning on what's considered acceptable by the people? Those front-facing nudes aren't the easiest to sell but not impossible, from my own experience. It's really inspiring and encourage to see someone take a risk, and makes me want to participate in Easton even more than I already do.

Brenda Boylan said...

All I can say is "Rock da boat, Mr Man, rock da boat". Just like an athlete who performs the most daring 3 time flip de doo, all the others will want to emulate you and include it in their work....much like Hui Lai's award winning nocturne from last year (2012), it seemed that more artists considered painting them this year (from what I observed from the rotating walls.) The nude is forever a classic subject, lets hope it comes out of hiding.

Marsha Hamby Savage said...

Wonderful post. It is nice to see there are organizations willing to be at the forefront of ideas in plein air artwork for our time. Why not? I know it is being done plein air ... but for an event... fantastic! Beautiful paintings as well!

Celeste Bergin said...

It seems almost funny to me that people would be shocked by nudes....but then I forget that nudes are commonplace for the painter--but so 'unusual' for the rest of the world. I guess nudes shocked me too ---once---maybe---before I took up art. It is so long ago, however, I can't even remember that.
Dare I say it, that your firefly model might not have minded standing in water in all that heat? I love both paintings...the parasol paintings is especially pretty---what colors! Congratulations on this distinction--being first is cool.

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...

Thanks everyone. I am happy and gratified to have done it in a big way and to receive your feedback. Yesterday, Scott Prior rightly pointed out on Facebook that Randy Sexton beat me to it last February at the Maui Plein Air Invitational, but Randy hung his smaller nude (a lovely girl by a poolside) after the Friday night gala while I hung both of mine during the Easton gala. So technically the first to do it applies to him, I guess. Even though my plans were already set by February. That's the thing, great ideas occur to artists simultaneously all the time. It's a Zeitgeist sort of thing, eh?

In any case, I Hope we will see more of this in the near future.