Raw talent: Shapiro and Read bare all
They may not be live and on stage, but totally nude girls are currently bringing sexy back to art on the Downtown Mall. The female body as an artistic focus has recurred throughout history, yet it often makes Americans uncomfortable. In fact, former Attorney General John Ashcroft spent $8,000 just to curtain off a bare-breasted statue of Justice.
Yet the nude endures, often beautifully, as demonstrated by Sharon Shapiro at Derriere de Soie and Megan E. Read at Mudhouse. Both artists tap archival nudie photographs as sources for their celebration of the female body, with Shapiro drawing inspiration from 1960s-era men’s magazines for her paintings, drawings, and mixed-media works, and Read re-creating 1920s’ erotic imagery in her charcoal drawings.
Since Shapiro has something of an obsession with women’s breasts, her work seems especially at home amid the frilly bras of Derrier de Soie. The layout of the venue also allows each of show’s 13 pieces, ranging from large paintings to small sketches, to stand on its own.
Shapiro’s strength is her skill with large-scale acrylic paintings, exemplified by “Ease,” which hangs in the lingerie shop’s front window. Depicting a woman’s torso as a pink, magenta, and gold striped robe slips from her shoulders against a rich black background, Shapiro’s m©lange of strokes is deft as she uses the full range of her palette to create lustrous flesh.
When Shapiro is attentive, she thrills with her observation of details, but occasionally she seems to rush through areas that interest her less. For instance, in the charcoal drawing “Dial,” she beautifully contours the neck, face, nipples, and phone cord, but treats the shadow on her subject’s right arm like an afterthought. Because everything else is so “on,” its off-ness is distracting.
Megan E. Read is another artist adept at closely observing the female form. The 11 charcoal drawings she displays at Mudhouse are so meticulously executed that they are easily mistaken for antique photographs. Her mastery of her medium is particularly evident in the way she captures a sheer floral veil draped over the left side of a graceful nude in “And So It Went.”
Unfortunately, Read often splatters paint on the glass covering her drawings and/or stencils words or numbers onto the clear surface. At best, these additions add nothing to the image, and, at worst, they detract from the exquisiteness of the drawing.
Complaints aside, though, it’s refreshing to have Shapiro and Read skip and go naked down Main Street.
Sharon Shapiro’s exhibition, “Painting Sexy,” is on view through March 30 at Derriere de Soie. 105 E. Main St. 977-7455. Megan E. Read’s charcoal drawings are on display through March 31 at Mudhouse. 213 W. Main St. 984-6833.