The always beautiful, funny and incisive work of artist/illustrator Anita Kunz has long been a favorite of ours here at S&TM. Her new exhibition, with fellow artist Maurice Vellekoop, titled The Naughty Show treats us to no less than 100 nude portraits of famous men.
Portraiture and parody have always figured prominently in her illustrations (gracing the covers of Time Magazine, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker). In The Naughty Show these are combined with her beautifully expressive attention to the naked form, often explored in her fine art work.
Anita’s meticulous watercolor renderings of Gandhi, Gene Simmons and Alfred Hitchcock (to name a few) are alive with the personalities of her subjects. Don’t miss The Naughty Show, currently on display at One 800 Gallery in Toronto.
The Naughty Show consists of 100 nudes of famous men. Could you tell us about what inspired the theme, and some of the ideas you were exploring in making these portraits?
A.K. Well the genesis of the work was actually fairly serious. I’ve been aware for a while that the fine art world is not gender neutral, and it still isn’t a level playing field. I frequently teach in the US and particularly in the south, when we draw from live models, they are always women. When I’ve complained about it, the answer is that women are better to draw (!?). And looking back at the history of art, there really are far far fewer depictions of nude men than nude women.
So I thought I’d do a series of male nudes, and while I was at it I thought I might as well make them portraits of famous men! John Currin painted a nude of Bea Arthur so I thought why not?
We loved the wildly different forms and figures of the various celebrities in the show. Were their bodies drawn straight from your imagination, or did you have some secret reference material? What was your process like when creating these images?
A.K. Well despite the serious intent the actual drawing was a lot of fun. I allowed the personalities of the men to suggest the anatomy. It was all from my imagination but I used old anatomy books to inform the poses.
Was it a deliberate choice to have the show premiere coincide with pride week here in Toronto?
A.K. Yes the show was intended to be a celebration of Pride. And I was so thrilled to show with Maurice Vellekoop. He’s an amazing artist and dear friend.
Mainstream media still has a lot of hang-ups when it comes to showing male nudity. Was showing famous men in the nude a way to address this?
A.K. I was actually a bit nervous about the possible fall out (i.e. would Donald Trump sue me? ) But ultimately it’s parody, so its intent was to be a subtle way to poke fun at convention.
“I allowed the personalities of the men to suggest the anatomy.”
– Anita Kunz
Do you approach your fine art work differently from commercial illustration projects? Do you have a preference for one or the other?
A.K. I’ve always considered myself an illustrator/ visual story-teller. So even when I do my personal work, it’s illustration-oriented.
I try to make comments and create narratives. The biggest difference is the fine art is self generated. And I suppose the fine art can be more challenging to the viewer because it doesn’t exist in a context (magazine) that must not offend anyone. So there’s no censorship there.
I don’t prefer one over the other. I’m just as happy to do illustration work where there’s minimal art direction than I am to do personal work. Interestingly I’m my own worst critic, so it’s not any easier to do personal projects!
Clockwise from top left:
Pieta 1 & 2, Cat, Victor, Kangaroo.