The female nude is nothing new in art-in fact, some might say that it is art’s most frequently painted subject. For veteran painter John Asaro, whose current show at Bergamot Station, Bella Donna, is a collection of female nudes, this subject has become his oeuvre and his passion, not to mention a form of therapy.“Since I was 19,” Asaro told the Mirror, “I have wanted to do something like this show. But I had negative thoughts. What would people think of me? Would they think I was a pornographer? I became very depressed.”After years of struggling with depression, Asaro found help through medication and talk therapy. He emerged from his personal darkness to paint a succession of works, in vivid colors, that speak of his love for women and his visions as expressed through the unadorned female form.The women in Asaro’s paintings come in many shapes and colors and are shown in poses ranging from the traditional reposing and seemingly unaware nude, to active and athletic types who look directly at the viewer-and often are smiling. Backgrounds in solid shades like orange-red, violet, and teal blue offset the skin tones of the women, which vary from pale to glowing golden to outer-space green.“Awakening’ is a study of several nude women who seem to be floating through a red void, asleep, but in some cases, starting to stretch into consciousness. Asaro describes this painting as a metaphor for awakening from “the depths of depression.”Other group studies show women who seem to be swimming (“Acqua Ballet,” and “Social Refractions,”) dancing (the wall -length triptych “Dance of Chroma,” and “Carousel”), and simply standing and showing themselves (“Cast Shadows”). A bit of political commentary that may not be immediately obvious is “Iraq 2007,” in which a female nude lies upside down. A close look reveals that her throat has been cut. If this becomes hard to look at, “Autopsy” is even more brutal, as it shows a woman lying stretched out, the coroner’s incision in her chest wide open, displaying all her innards.These images challenge the relaxed reaction of the viewer. Over the last 30 years, images of the female body that seem passive, and those that incorporate violence, have roused the ire of critics and feminists. If Asaro’s paintings are indeed outlets for his feelings and even his political views, one can grant him that license as an artist, to paint what he needs to express. Some of the images however, may anger those who think that there is already too much exploitation of the female body.Still, when contemplating the lively and culturally diverse group of women in “Dance of Chroma,” it is also apparent that John Asaro is having the time of his life, getting down on canvas his appreciation for beautiful women.“I love women,” he said. “Every day I see women I want to paint.”Bella Donna is on exhibit at Bergamot Station, C-1, through March 24. For more paintings, see johnasaro.com.
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