show and tell
How Lucky DeBellevue Came to Expose Some of History’s Greatest Artists
Having your nudes leak is a distinctly 21st-century concern. And when people take notice, the photo is much more likely to belong to a politician or a reality TV star than a revered artist. The same was true back in the mid-19th century; Monet, Manet, and Sargent were by and large above the ignominy of the nude selfie, even if the women who posed for them would often disrobe. Thankfully, a new series of watercolors, pencil drawings, paintings, and prints by the New York artist Lucky DeBellevue is out to correct that dearth.
DeBellevue, who first rose to prominence in the early 2000s with his colorful and sinuous pipe-cleaner sculptures, started this series during the first months of the pandemic, when a planned project fell apart. It was while he was looking through a cache of old photos on his computer that he came across a saved image of the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch standing naked in a forest. “There was something vulnerable and sincere about it,” he said. “The Munch photo sent me down a path of finding images of other artists from history, from the mid-19th century on.” While DeBellevue did track down a few legitimate dick pics floating around the internet—including a handsome Frank Stella— the majority of artist portraits involved stately, fully clothed poses in their studios. “I thought, why not do a little manipulation for my own purposes?” DeBellevue says. “Let’s just say I’ve used a lot of artistic license.”
This December, these nudes will appear in The Canon, an online exhibition at New Discretions Gallery.
“This image is from a photo taken by Hollis Frampton of Frank Stella from a series he did of him from 1958 to 1962. Frampton and Stella knew each other at Andover, and were roommates briefly in New York, where this collaboration occurred. Here, we see Stella as the quintessential young male artist on the rise: wiry, cocky, and charismatic.”
“I think Munch liked his profile. I have a few photos of him looking rightward, into the distance. Here he is, in the midst of painting ‘Bathing Men,’ en plein air, with one of his models present. I think I got the atmosphere of the beach right, which brings me back to high school art class. (I hope Mrs. Smith gives me an A for this.)”
“Here is Munch naked in the woods. Is he alone in the world, or is the world embracing him? Ahh, the life of an artist, alone, thinking, making things, and then going out and making the scene.”
“In a way, this shot is like the scene of a crime, a classroom where Eakins got into trouble for nudity, ultimately being fired as a professor, for, among other things, ripping off the loin cloth off a male model when a female student was present. But maybe he was one of those people whose clothes seem to be burning them and they can’t wait to take them off. I’ve known a couple of those.”
“The shock of ‘Olympia’ was that the woman in the painting was not a nude Greek goddess, or the symbol of liberty, but a well-known sex worker of the day. This half-nude image of Manet would not have the same reaction to-day, but what would?”
“Here’s daddy bear surveying his domain. I did a residency in Giverny, Monet’s garden in France, years ago, and it was wonderful and idyllic. I went to Paris one weekend to see an American friend. His French architect boyfriend ranted about how fake and Disneyland-like Giverny was, which I guess it was. As fake as my French accent.”
Special thanks: Thomas Alexander