Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Studio Visit with Clarity Haynes by Suzanne Broughel

Clarity Haynes is among the new members who recently joined tART, so this visit was a nice opportunity for me to get to know her and her work better. Her studio space in Brooklyn is filled with images of women’s bodies – drawings and paintings.  Some of the paintings are much larger than life size.  Only a specific portion of each woman’s body is depicted: the unclothed breasts, framed by chin and waistline.  She started this “Breast Portrait Project” in 1998, making pastel drawings at women’s festivals – a healing environment where some women chose to walk topless.  She has also conducted workshops with women, using art as a means of self acceptance and appreciation regarding the body.   The invested persistence and evolution of this project show in the nuances of Clarity’s work.  There have been gaps as long as five years where she did not work on it, and the largest canvases – among my favorites – are a recent step. 

I asked Clarity why she doesn’t include her subjects’ faces and she told me that “when you have a face, it becomes about the face”, which is “more narrative, in another way.” Speaking with Clarity and viewing this work, it is clear how central a woman’s breasts are to her body image – and how the depictions of naked breasts that we are used to seeing collectively – in Western art history and popular culture - affect our own self image.  In Clarity’s paintings and drawings, I see the female body in all its beautifully complex realness and variety – not the photoshopped, commercialized, stringently edited versions that are ubiquitous and practically unavoidable. Clarity is particularly interested in affirming women’s bodies as they age, and challenging rigid ideas of “ideal” size, shape, skin tone and texture.  Something that really struck me is that, though this project – in its current iteration - is very much about painting, it is also participatory.  Women aren’t just static “models”.  She maintains a book where the women write down their thoughts on their own relationship with their body – alongside their photo.  I loved going through this book.  Though the drawings and paintings stand on their own, it added rich layers to my experience of them.

The work I am choosing for tART’s “Collectively Assembled “ show is the breast portrait of Roxanne, a very muscular bodybuilder.  This painting raises so many important questions about our assumptions on race, gender, and iconic imagery.  It led to some wonderfully strong conversation during our studio visit.  Particularly after I read Roxanne’s entry in Clarity’s book, I knew this was the painting for the show – and I’ve asked Clarity to include Roxanne’s writing and photo in the gallery.