Click image below for more "still life"

Click image below for more "still life"
Francis Cunningham "Three Baldwin Apples" (1964) Oil on linen 5'' x 16''

Monday, August 26, 2013

Behind the Scenes of Reaching (Regina)

Reaching (Regina) was originally painted in 1993, with changes made in 1996.  It is an oil on canvas painting, 72" x 48".

Regina began her modeling career after a car accident ended her professional dancing career. She was a model at the Parsons School of Design in New York, and first posed for Francis at the Century in 1993. Over time, Regina became close friends to Francis and his wife, Kitty.  She also became his studio assistant and posed for six paintings from 1993 through 2007. Today, she lives on the west coast with an occasional visit to New York.

In first viewing this life size painting, Reaching (Regina), I was struck by the interesting pose and asked Francis how he decided on this particular pose. He replied, "Some artists prefer to dictate to their model the exact pose and expression to hold for a particular painting.  However, I consider the pose to be a cooperative venture between my model and myself."  Francis prefers the models to express who they are through their pose and to be comfortable with their body in the pose. In Reaching (Regina), you can see the remnants of Regina's classical dance training expressed in the position of her arms and hands. It's almost as if she were dancing in her dreams. 

As previously discussed in last week's post on the painting of Floyd Woodbeck, an artist's eye takes in exactly what it sees. Uncorrected, you will have a painting that includes optical distortions. In order to have an anatomically functional figure, one must make corrections to what the eye is seeing, taking into consideration the relative proportions of the body parts in relation to the pose.  In Floyd's case, the feet being closer to the viewer than hands or head, the feet had to be made smaller than they appeared in order to be proportional to the rest of the body.

In the case of Reaching (Regina), the position of the body placed on a diagonal into space compounds the corrections needed to relate all of the body parts proportionally to each other. You will notice also that the spine and shoulders appear in an upward lift. There are subtle rotations within the body. The body appears to be on a path which has been created by the painter with the shapes in the back leading to her feet and forward to her arm reaching out. This gives the appearance that she is coming from somewhere and by reaching out, also going somewhere.

In close relation to allowing the model to choose the pose, Francis also asks the viewer of the painting to create his or her own story about the painting. This invites the viewer to become part of the art. An example of this can be found in a story Francis relayed to me. Friends had one of his nudes of Regina hanging in their home for a month. At the end of the month, the wife reported that she had fallen in love with the subject. It takes time to observe a painting. Slowly, the naked subject in the painting became a deeply appreciated nude.

Francis notes that people today are not used to looking at painted nudes and can be put off by such particularity. We have been conditioned to look for the idealized body, free of defects and imperfections, and that leaves out 99% of us. Why must we conform to Hollywood or fashion to appreciate our bodies? Anything less than idealized form tends to be dismissed as inferior. Francis has spent his career studying the human figure anatomically, skeletal and muscular structure, form, function and movement. He explains that just as there are slow and fast movements in music it is the same for art. There is far more to the human figure than just its outward forms alone. In order to depict the human figure, you need to understand its construction and workings down to the bone.

We have moved far from the understanding that Michelangelo and the Renaissance had of how the body moves and what it means in terms of artistic expression. Francis would like to encourage artists interested in drawing and painting the human figure to "do the work". Study the anatomy of movement, learn the body well enough to draw the figure in any position from out of your head and also to learn the techniques necessary to paint an anatomically functional figure, clothed or unclothed. For all painters, there is an emotional drive that lies behind study and technique. Here it is a love of the human being in its individual particularities and expressive potential.

You can view Regina Reaching along with 22 other paintings in Francis Cunningham's Masters Exhibition at the Century Association this October. Please email if you would like a personal invitation to the Opening Reception on October 2, from 5pm - 7pm.

written by: Terri Malloy



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