Artists have been looking, if not leering, at nude women since prehistoric times. Among the oldest artworks ever discovered are a gaggle of so-called Venus sculptures including “Venus of Hohle Fels” and the “Venus of Willendorf.” These figurines are tens of thousands of years old, and their surviving sculptural detail ranges from amazingly fine to mostly gone — but in each case, an enormous bosom leaves no doubt what kind of creature we’re staring at: a female one.
Angst Gallery in downtown Vancouver will turn that picture upside down this month. Angst’s January exhibit is its sixth annual look at “The Male Form.”
That won’t be exactly what you’re already thinking. The annual public call to artists for contributions on this theme tends to result in a nude- to non-nude ratio that’s only about 20-80, Angst Gallery owner Leah Jackson said. Clearly there’s more to say and more to portray about maleness than the naked body and its plumbing apparatus.
When The Columbian stopped by the gallery earlier this week, painter Nikki Hansen was just dropping off an abstract piece featuring the ambiguous figure of a man surrounded by pretty flowers and worker bees in their hive — underlining the roles and rules that men must obey, Hansen said.
“In our society, males are not allowed to express the feminine side of themselves,” she said. “You’re only allowed to be super masculine.”
If you go
- What: “The Male Form”
- Opening reception: 5 to 9 p.m. Jan. 6.
- Exhibit on display:Jan. 6 through 27.
- Where: Angst Gallery, 1015 Main St., Vancouver.
- On the web: http://angstgallery.com
And photographer Al Flory delivered a sweet, simple, family-friendly portrait of his diminutive mother and his towering great-nephew. The growing child always loved measuring himself against Grandma the yardstick, Flory said; now, Grandma fits neatly inside the young man’s huge embrace.
“It just seemed a fun way to interpret the theme,” Flory said.
But last year, Flory added, his contribution was far more graphic: photos of giant ceremonial penises, snapped during Japan’s annual “Kanamara Matsuri,” the Festival of the Steel Phallus. That’s a centuries-old celebration of fertility and the male role in making it happen.
“Sometimes I have one kind of fun, sometimes another,” Flory said. Overall, he said, Angst’s annual focus on the male form “is a fun and interesting alternative. It’s about time we even things out a little bit.”
This theme, in all its complexity and controversy, comes from the simplest place possible, Jackson said: her sons.
“I have two boys. They have seen a lot of the female form.” That’s partially because their mother runs an art gallery, but even more because the female form is generally accepted as OK for public display — while the male form, somehow or other, is not.
The first time Jackson tried this theme at Angst, she said, she watched a family — mom, dad and two not-so-young boys — walk in, catch one glimpse of male genitalia and walk right out again. Jackson couldn’t help wondering: were those parents afraid their boys would see things they’d never seen before?
It’s ridiculous to see the male form — half of humanity — as unattractive or shameful, Jackson said.
“I want them to know that the male form is beautiful, as well,” she said.
A nice by-product of this particular call for artists is that it brought out several who never exhibited anything before, Jackson said. “The Male Form” is the second of three monthly group exhibits at Angst, all based on a theme and a public call to artists.
December’s show was an eighth anniversary Angst retrospective. February’s show will take up the theme “Inauguration Angst.”