Artists Dan Coombs and Phillip Allen have invited a hundred contemporary (often abstract) artists to make paintings on the theme of The Perfect Nude. An aesthetic experiment, the show presents a comprehensive range of responses to the subject; its aim, to create a rich network of images that will establish a context for representation of the body in contemporary painting.
It’s through luck rather than judgement that The Perfect Nude finds itself back at its location of origin, CHARLIE SMITH london. It was here in early 2011 that Phillip Allen and Dan Coombs hatched the predecessor to The Perfect Nude, namely The Perfect Crime. Like all guilty parties, they have returned to the scene of the crime to mount the third instalment of the exhibition - previously exhibited at the Gallery at Wimbledon College of Art, and at The Phoenix Arts Centre in Exeter.
Phillip Allen and Dan Coombs asked almost 100 artists to make paintings of the nude, sincerely and without irony, and all of the paintings were unseen before the initial hang.
In recent decades the idea of the nude has been in decline in art school: life drawing is no longer practiced widely, ideas and research are currently pre-eminent. The tradition of teaching painting in British art schools has grown out of non-referential painting, abstraction and formalism; and the objective, realist tradition of painting the figure died with Euan Uglow.
Would it not be apposite then, to take a look at this neglected genre? The nude seems ripe for a reawakening; it is an implicitly psychological genre, tapping directly into the artistic psyche. The show is an aesthetic experiment presenting a comprehensive range of responses to the subject. In part, Allen and Coombs’ interest lies in the idea of imposing a subject onto the participating artists, or taking away the normal responsibility the artist necessarily has for their subject. Or, giving to particular artists a subject they perhaps do not normally deal with, as many of the participating artists are abstract painters.
The subject is vast and the nude is a fundamental subject for Western art, or the art of any culture. The nude, along with sublime landscape or the dramatic portrait, is one of the few truly universal subjects. In Coombs’ words, ‘the distinction between the naked and the nude is like the difference between the represented and the real. The nude body I take as the naked body in a state of representation. Either through being posed or painted, the nude is never fully naked – the body has something projected on to it, it is made to stand for something. Through gesture, through deportment, through atmosphere, the nude is made to embody an idea, a feeling, a philosophy, a way of being’. Phillip Allen & Dan Coombs