Some of my most popular posts include images of nudes. I don’t use them to be controversial – I am genuinely interested in how garments, accessories, and makeup are used to “create” or re-create the body.
Feeling Blue, a post I recently wrote about the artist Yves Klein, explored how an artist used nude females as live paintbrushes. Aside from appreciating the artistic statement (and sensuality of seeing the works of art being created), the article reminded me so much of how clothing is an artistic medium used to create identity.
Anthropometry, Untitled Characteristics: Dry pigment in synthetic resin on paper 102 x 73 cm. Image courtesy of guggenheim-bilbao.org
I pushed this idea further in another post, Role Reversal. Sometimes, the image we see in the mirror is not an accurate representation of how we feel about ourselves. This disparity can have many different degrees. We are each born with one body, but experience change continually. At one point or another, clothing helps you transition to a new identity – a new phase of life. But sometimes, your gender may not match with your biological sex.
Gia Carangi and unknown model in YSL Rive Gauche, 1979. Photo by Helmut Newtown. Image courtesy of imtheitgirl.com
Clothing helps us to construct multiple identities. Therefore it’s virtually impossible to teach fashion without exploring how fashion constructs and deconstructs gender identities. Read more about how I discuss this topic with my students on Worn Through:
Anthropometry by Yves Klein, 1961. Image courtesy of http://coatedarms.blogspot.com
I will never forget my first figure drawing class. As calm and collected as I tried to be, the moment the model disrobed and stood in front of me, I was nervous, embarrassed, and curious. In the name of art, I could stare at a naked man or woman and not be considered a pervert. How liberating!
Yves Klein at work, c. 1961. Image courtesy of http://design-crisis.com
Working in the fashion industry, I saw many parallels to the artist’s studio. Naked bodies are every present in the atelier – fittings, dress rehearsals, runway shows. After the initial shock value faded, I noticed that the constant exposure to nudity made me a connoisseur of the human form. In fashion and art, ideal beauty changes with time. (For more on this, you’d love my previous posts Moovies, Boobies, and Ideal Beauty and A Return to the Ideal) The only constant is the human desire to display the body in an appealing way.
A Blue Kind of World. Image courtesy of coloribus.com
Recently, I came across the work of Yves Klein (1928-1962). From 1960-1962, Klein did a series of paintings called Anthropomtries (Anthropometry in English). Anthropometry was Klein’s term for covering naked female models in blue paint and dragging them across or pressing them onto canvases. The models were “living brushes”, and their naked bodies made the images. Seeing photos of Klein slather his signature ‘International Klein Blue’ (IKB) paint on voluptuous French models was so overtly sexual I was almost embarrassed that I found the image while at work. Almost.
These works of art became public performances. Klein directed the models, covered in IKB to make imprints of their bodies on large sheets of paper in front of audiences. The “exhibition” was complete with blue cocktails and a performance of his Monotone Symphony a single note played for twenty minutes, followed by twenty minutes of silence. The resulting artwork is quite beautiful. However, I think this is one of the rare cases where the product mustbe accompanied with an accurate description of the process.
Anthropometry, Untitled by Yves Klein. Image courtesy of Artnet.com
Image courtesy of http://citizenzoo.files.wordpress.com
These shows were successes, both commercially and critically. Anthropometry is the study of human proportions, and by systematically directing the “living paint brushes” Klein believed his art was the most concentrated expression of vital energy imaginable. I would agree with Klein on that statement.
Image courtesy of http://assentodiario.blogspot.com
Image courtesy of http://angryflannel.com
Anthropometry has some similarities with Veruschka’s Oxydationen series. However, Veruschka’s use of body paint serves more to obscure her naked body. Klein has managed to capture human sexuality and fling it on the canvas. It’s like being a novice in figure drawing class all over again.