Dr. Margaret (Marmie) Perkins Hess Gallery
January 27 – June 17, 2022
Fragile & Familiar
This curatorial project began with just the inkling of an idea. I knew the goal was to present figurative works of some kind, exploring how artists represent the real or imagined individuals populating their lives. Over time it became clear that what truly stood out to me was not what the people were doing or how they were positioned in any scene. Their bodies said everything I wanted to hear. Of course, art’s treatment of the human form is endlessly fascinating when one stops to think about it. Bodies make their mark in countless ways—through their presence or their absence, being rendered in exact detail or twisted into unnatural shapes, imparting stories worth a listen or reduced to merely decorative objects. They offer inspiration, guidance, and enjoyment. While searching through collection records for such bodies to share, I found that figure studies served as a foundation to this love of the human form.
There is something inherently vulnerable about these bodies as they’ve been committed to the page. Obvious concerns jumped out, such as the question of who has the privilege of representing whom or at what point the balance of power collapses inwards, but it was never simply about the state of dress or undress. The identities of artists and models alike seemed to fade into the background. Even the array of materials from smoky charcoal smudges to precise ink strokes became a secondary concern. I kept returning to the fragility of all these figures, stripped down to the essential elements of what a body is or might be. These figures may prompt their audience to consider not only the bodies seen on the walls or the ones they inhabit, but the stories and questions bodies can share when presented as so basic and exposed.
Any of these works could be overlooked in favour of more vibrant paintings or prints, but I found that now more than ever the idea that we all inhabit a fragile, familiar form holds a great deal of power. Many of the selected works are beautifully realized studies capturing the intricacies of the human body. Some pay loving tribute to their sitters by capturing personality in every careful line. Others present the body as we know it through the barest suggestion of shape, or call for attention by presenting it on monumental scale. While this exhibition offers only a sampling of the figure studies present in the University of Lethbridge Art Collection and an even smaller sampling of the bodies inhabiting the world, I hope that it offers up a reminder of the value found in considering what a body might say. After all, it is never really just about the body.