WES MILLS AND NUDITY, a response by Paul Henrickson,©2007

(A record of an exchange of missals)
Paul--here is an interesting email I got this AM, from a fellow who had spoken about buying some of my art...he then fell off the radar...He had talked, too, about possibly giving me a show (I did not qualify in his bosses terms as an emerging artist, so not in the context I had previously mentioned to you) in the City of Roanoke Library system...I found the juxtaposition of topics interesting...& this came outta the blue, not having heard from the chap for months...O, my response is first, below..have to read from the bottom up...

“From the bottom up”? what an interesting and intriguing phrase in (under(?) the circumstances.
Hey, you are an artist so maybe u can provide insight. Why in USA is there a shock response to male nudity? I saw a movie "28 Days Later" with some friends the other day. Its a horror film, an intelligent one, but the movie opens with a lengthy shot of a male patient in a hospital bed without clothes. Its a front shot and his equipment below the belt's not hidden. There were giggles, embarrassment, from my friends. But female nudity seems to be almost expected. We chatted about it after and agreed that it's very unusual in USA culture for male nudity to happen in films. So when it does it shocks. What is it about USA and men being butt naked?!! In Europe it seems about 50/50 for male and female nudity (actually, personally I would prefer to only ever see my wife naked, no one else - the thrill would be increased so much if that were the case), but anyway. One friend even said she'd read that the media in the USA airbrush photographs of men that display evidence of something actually existing between his legs and make groin area all smooth, no bumps or disturbing shapes evident! This is wild! Anyway, comments appreciated! River (response follows) Nice to hear from you...I called you back this AM--...had --for once --gone to bed early...I was amused by the email subject...not knowing initially who the email was from...I couldn't guess the relationship of WM & Nudity! Anyway, in answer to your question (which is not really an answer): art through the centuries has dealt with male --and female--a)nakedness, and b) nudity...Some art historians differentiate, as I just did, seeing the difference between anatomical nakedness, and purportedly "prurient" nudity. Perhaps more females are shown because the male (supposedly) is more attracted by sight, the female by touch...tho that is probably oversimplified (after all there is or was "playgirl" magazine...) ...And perhaps as the times have changed, there is not as much difference in one sex's preference...... But then I wonder: IS there really more female nakedness or nudity? I really don't know. What an

interesting sociological study that would be, huh?

BBB: I, too, find the juxtaposition of Wes Mills and the subject of nudity rather surprising…not because Wes Mills has never appeared nude, like Jeff Koons *I have often rather perversely wondered whether Koon’s equipment functioned as well as it looked]. Should one wonder now whether Mill’s equipment is significantly different in appearance?…certainly their artistic efforts are at opposite poles (oopps! wrong word!) I think, BBB, your having brought the matter up rather choked my engine for about two days until I “slept” on the matter. I then did some additional research on this fellow Wes Mills and came across a statement I find most perceptive and it came from, if I recall, the Hosfelt Gallery website

Wes Mills’ drawings are like complete thoughts that arrive spontaneously and unexpectedly, not as resolutions of an idea, but rather as clear, direct, and whole in and of themselves. (except for this which seems contrived and nonsensical) Mills finds materials, like ideas, to be distracting. Hence he’s pared down his medium to essentially paper and graphite, with occasional use of pigment, ink or other materials. His small, spare drawings involve a minimum of form as well. Simple, isolated shapes or lines float on {very good expression} the paper. The drawing becomes almost a foil to the neutral ground, as though Mills were trying to give shape and color to the space of a room, or to the quality of the mind in meditation. (I like this last bit) I was particularly struck by the similarity in nuance between the Mills’ work and the carefully worded description given the writer’s responses. The marriage of the two vehicles of communication is vitally important, that is, what one reads, hopefully, will mirror, to some extent, what one feels. Of course, all this depends upon the observer’s aesthetic development. Not to leave the original subject of this discourse behind, what does it mean that the observer may be more aroused by Koon’s equipment than by the materialization of his aesthetic imagery…and further,

what does it mean that a patron would offer him $1,000,000 and I am not sure I ever knew what work it was that was for sale.

His (Mills’) restlessness is represented in the searching nature of his work, which usually consists of atmospheric drawings on paper, done in tiny, introspective scale with gentle pencil tracery, using blown and rubbed powdered pigments to great gaseous effect….Michael Brennan Unfortunately, the hardness of the wood panels in two slightly larger paintings seems at odds with the general fuzziness of the work. That wood probably needs to be pulverized into paper in order to surrender itself to the gentle content of Mill's diffuse imagery I tried to discover something about this Michael Brennan and really got diverted…like having th e raod signs switched and ended with all kinds of Michael Brennans from medical students in Kentucky to electricians elsewhere whose naked appearances were nowhere in evidence, I did find a Michael-Brennan-Wood whose mixed media assemblage seemed an aesthetically richer item than those rather mindless circles of Paul Brach.

Michael Brennan-Wood: embroidered flowers and acrylic

Paul Brach

When I did, finally, locate what I thought was Michael Brennan’s work at the Henry Gregg Gallery website they were prohibited from being copied ( presumably for copyright reasons)But copyright allows reproduction for critical purposes and, in this instance, my rights, as a critic, are being thwarted. I wanted to evaluate some Brennan characteristic in relation to his comment on the work of Wes Mills.

Michael Brennan’s work


22 red trolleys

From these examples I am unable to understand the comments by Brennen. Maybe these are not his works.

Peter Paul Rubens

Rolf Koppel

“Resurrection” (sic?)

I think this a self portrait

Jeff Koons (just playing around)

Odd Nerdrum (well, we all know those Vikings did a lot of raping and ravaging)

I do not know for sure what these images contribute to the discussion which seems to be American reticence as opposed to European “Let it all hang out”. I suppose there is still latent in man (if not also in woman) a fascination with the potentially progenerative projectile a degree of phallic worship. (It is, otherwise and in earlier times, known as a pee pee) This concept may have taken Gustav Mahler so much by surprise that when informed by Sigmund Freud, during a twenty minute analysis, that he may be a repressed homosexual he died on the Venetian beach watching an adolescent perform. Only after Mahler’s death did Freud send the bill to the widow. Unngh! I do not wish to imply that I think there is enough male nudity in our culture, nor that there isn’t….my present preference is that we spend ourselves (the verb word is purposefully chosen) on trying to decided whether the interest in such works as the following is an expression of

our need to escape contemporary confusions and, therefore a form of escapist therapy or the emergence of an emotional exuberance of a tactile nature truly announcing a new and meaning art style. After all, why should mankind have run out of art styles already?

OR The 3 above by Wm.Beamer this and the 2 below by Henrickson

and this one too, just so that we do not forget the nudity question.

Henrickson’s drawing of a volunteer model who made him promise he wouldn’t touch him. I wonder what he meant. I wonder what might have happened if he had. It was all rather beside the point, but the model wasn’t sure. Now were I still a teacher I would ask my students to identify the commonalities in this drawing of the male figure and the two that follow:

And then I would ask: what is the most significant difference in attitude between those above and those below?

and there I would leave it for one should never over cook.

Paul Henrickson www.tcp.com.mt

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