London, UK: The Vanity Press, 2017
26 pp., 42 x 29.7 cm., spiral bound
Edition size unknown
A 2018 nude calendar featuring the artist's written descriptions of the nude form.
"I don't see myself as working in the grand history of the nude in art: my work isn't at all similar to Lucian Freud's, for example. But the complexity that surrounds the nude – the questions about gender that define the history of the nude, and for that matter the history of description per se – are a motivation.
I got involved in looking at and describing the human form through watching war films. It occurred to me, after a while, that their images were pornographic in nature – both alluring, seductive and repulsive. That got me into looking at porn films. I began to think that they were like life drawings, only with all the rules broken. They have very limited narrative: often no script, virtually no dialogue, just the hovering gaze. I described these films moment by moment, in my own words, and made very big pictures from them. They take something very private and domestic, and make it heroic. After that, I worked with a striptease artist. She came to my studio and undressed, and I began describing her act verbally. It became a kind of striptease in words.
I generally never use life models – I usually work with people I know. We need a good rapport, especially for the performances I do, in which I stage a bare classical studio set-up with an easel, but then describe the nude model in front of a live audience. It's a bit of theatre. It's dead serious, but tongue-in-cheek as well. The performances are really taut, tense but oddly funny, for the audience as well as for me and the model.
The artwork itself has become vulnerable, because the mechanisms around it have been stripped back, exposed. The performances expose these layers of voyeurism – my voyeurism looking at the model, and the audience's voyeurism looking at me making the art, and looking at the model. But then the very way we look at all art, the way we treat artworks, the way we present them, is itself erotic. There is always that voyeuristic distance and rarification. Nudity is oddly taboo, even though, or perhaps because, we come into the world naked, and it's how we leave.
The first time you walk into a life-drawing class as a student, there's a frisson of excitement about how to formalise a moment that would normally be very intimate and very erotic. So what happens on paper in that class – the drawing or painting of the nude model – becomes an erotic act. It can also be brutal. In terms of a narrative structure, the nude is both protagonist and reader, or the subject and viewer in one. There's no narrative embellishment, just the bare standing figure; no before or after.
We always come back to the issue of describing the human form. It's a way of describing ourselves – an attempt to stall time long enough to make some kind of reflection, not of the stuff around, but of us, the flesh. Every life drawing, good or bad, is like a gravestone, an attempt to make permanent that which is always passing, an attempt to seize what we can't hold."
- Fiona Banner, The Guardian, 2009