“My painting, generally, is a depiction of what I see about that individual,” he said. “In terms of augmenting or changing anything … I don’t do that.”
Artists have featured nude females in their work for thousands of years; however, in the past, they haven’t always portrayed women realistically. In contemporary art, most artists depict the attributes of nude women as they appear, without attempting to idealize the paintings.
Although artwork of female nudes doesn’t prove exceptionally popular with most patrons, artists like Clarke, 51, continue to paint nude women. They believe the female body is naturally beautiful and artists don’t need to change breasts or other attributes in paintings.
“Generally, in most cases (contemporary artists) try to be truthful in terms of the depiction of a particular person,” Clarke said. “I try to capture that particular esthetic about that particular individual.”
David McClyment, a fine arts professor at Centennial College in Toronto, has seen that although many artists paint nude women this way, paintings of nude women are still not very popular among patrons.
“There really isn’t a big market for naked-people paintings,” said McClyment, 58.
However, this doesn’t discourage Clarke, who works in Toronto. He believes that, like himself, most artists are driven to paint because they’re passionate about the subject with little or no regard to concerns about whether the painting will sell.
Several years ago, Clarke painted a series of paintings featuring pregnant women. He painted most of them nude because of his passion for painting the naked female form.
He knew that in North America patrons don’t appear to adore the nude figure in art, but decided to create the series of paintings anyway. Pregnancy had never been depicted in a series of artwork in North America, he said, and this inspired him further to complete it.
“Generally, (in art), most of the nude body is actually shunned and in my opinion, I think it’s one of the most beautiful forms,” Clarke said.
Sharlene Rankin, director of the Telephone Booth Gallery in Toronto, has also seen that collectors are generally not interested in buying artwork of female nudes, although some do find it beautiful.
Many patrons feel that if they buy art featuring nude women they wouldn’t have a place in their home where they would be able to display it, she said.
“I’m not sure that the female nude is something that is of interest to most collectors at this time,” Rankin said. “Do you really want to be staring at someone’s breasts … while you’re having dinner or have your grandmother over in your living room?”
Nevertheless, artists have shown a fascination with the female nude since prehistoric times, McClyment said. Prehistoric artists sculpted the famous Venus of Willendorf, a statuette of a nude female figure with augmented breasts.
The fascination with the female nude continued throughout later history. Thousands of years after the sculpting of Venus of Willendorf, Renaissance art from the French Academy shows that artists continued to depict the female nude figure, McClyment said.
During the Renaissance period, nude females were often idealized in paintings and artists usually painted flawed attributes differently. Ultimately, they created many generic paintings of female nudes that adhered to the model of the idealized woman set by the French Academy, McClyment said.
In this way, most contemporary art of nude women differs from classic examples from the past.
“I don’t find that the female form is idealized the way it used to be,” Rankin said. “The form is presented as a realistic rendering of a woman.”
As a woman, Rankin, 33, doesn’t feel that paintings of nude women represent the female body as a type of commodity.
“We’re bombarded in daily culture with the body in advertising and I don’t think there’s a shock value and I don’t think it’s necessarily degrading,” she said.
When he paints nude females, Clarke doesn’t look at their bodies as a commodity.
“Part of it, really, is giving power to women,” he said.
These paintings often help women realize the beauty of their own unique body, Clarke said. By painting women’s bodies as they appear, he individualizes them and shows that they’re not a generic commodity.
Clarke believes he is not alone in painting female nudes this way in contemporary art.
“Most artists, I think, are pretty consistent in terms of their ideas or their objective of creating a depiction of what they basically see,” he said. “I do try to depict (female nudes) as accurately as I can.”