Monday, May 01, 2006

Artist of the Week (05/01/06)

I've been following Tracy Nakayama's work for a number of years, but even when I first saw it in the late 90's its nod to nostalgia made it seem as if I've always known it. I'll admit, it's difficult to choose which of Tracy's work to include here as they can be extremly graphic, and because her work is about sex (and in our culture that almost always implies something unwholesome). Still, although not always, Tracy's work often depicts naked people in compositions as sweet as imaginable. In fact, I once unwittingly offended Tracy by inviting her to exhibit in a group exhibition about sex and sleaze and politics, and didn't understand why she didn't want to be included. It took me a few years (perhaps a few years of growing up) to understand why that context was totally inappropriate for her work. Here's one of her ink on paper pieces whose title makes more clear why:

Tracy Nakayama, Sweet Memories of a Stuffed Animal, 2004, ink on paper, 10 " x 13" (image originally found on Bodybuilder & Sportsman gallery website).

Represented in Chicago by
Bodybuilder & Sportsman gallery, in Los Angeles by Acuna-Hansen gallery, and currently having an exhibition at our awesome neighbors, ATM gallery here in New York (Tracy's work was also included in the group exhibition of Erotic drawings organized by DiverseWorks and the Aldrich, last year), Tracy's work is the kind that prompts dealers to post a warning on the door. This strikes me as an unfortunate reality, but I'd do the same. Even as loving and beautiful as her subjects are often portrayed, the adult subject matter of her work does warrant advance notice to parents.

Despite their usual lack of clothing, the hairstyles and accessories clearly place many of Tracy's subjects in the 1970's. Her duotone palette strengthens the sense that we're viewing an earlier, perhaps more innocent (or at least less complicated) time as well. Here's an earlier piece:

Tracy Nakayama, Wet, 2001, Ink on paper 39" x 25" (see IKON gallery website).

Again, I find I'm carefully editing here. Many of Tracy's images, which she takes from porn films, are much more graphic than these, often depicting orgies or what looks to be casual sex. But even then, they're defined by gentleness and a sense that sex is fun (a novel concept in some quarters, I know).

Tracy Nakayama, Golden Years, 2003, Ink & goldleaf on paper, 10" x 13" (original image here was found on Downtown for Democracy website).

Not everyone is as prudish as I am, though. A few years back, Jerry Saltz called Tracy's works "cute nudie watercolors." And in a 2002 press release for her exhibition at Modern Culture, Tracy was open about her choices, noting she makes creates "art that turns me on....The work is meant to be seen as neither retro nor kitschy. It is sincere and humble." Here's another two images for the road:

Tracy Nakayama, God Only Knows (image from Howard Tullman's blog, HindSight)

Tracy Nakayama, Mountain Men Wine Jug, 2004, ink on paper, 13" x 10" (image from Bodybuilder and Sportsman gallery website).


Blogger sloth said...

I saw this show & liked it; I guess not "retro" because while the imagery is from the 70s, her approach is more contemporary. ATM doesn't have any of her images on their site -- are they just behind in updating or are they worried about the content?

5/01/2006 02:16:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...


5/01/2006 02:20:00 PM  
Blogger Karl Zipser said...

Nice pictures. The four-figure bath scene is reminiscent of Egon Schiele in technique, but not tone. As an artist who avoids working from photos, I find this work frustrating. I can't deny that it has something special. But working from photos makes it much easier for the artist to reach her goal. Is it pointless to try to achieve these types of results without resorting to photography? Or is there any special benefit to working from life and the imagination that compensates for the extra work?

5/01/2006 04:49:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I'm with Karl to some degree: I wish these had been done from life instead of from film stills, which I think is lazy and reduces the quality of the art. Working from photos and film stills isn't bad per se but these look pretty slavish to the originals.

Also, did she have to pick the 1970s? Because if there was an uglier decade I'd be hard pressed to imagine it. Especially in porn.

Still, sex is good. Nudity is good. General happy fun sex and nudity is really good. I'm personally sick and tired of perversity (even if I sometimes practice it, I guess).

5/01/2006 08:13:00 PM  
Blogger JD said...

These look like those illustrations from The Joy of Sex. I read them as either extremely self-conscious and tongue-in-cheek, or as a bit too cleaned-up looking to be truly sexy. Though, I should see the other, raunchier ones in the show before saying this. . .

5/02/2006 01:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the Joy of Sex comment. I saw the show and read them as campy, kitshy throwbacks to the 70's. sort of nostalgic. didn't find them sexy or a turnon.

5/02/2006 08:42:00 AM  
Anonymous carla said...

Sex is personal. Its public display is perverse, and so raunchy public depictions make sense, can even be fun, or boring (another erotic art show? oh boy!). The tenor is impersonal. But these 'sweet' representations are disturbing to me, as are the Joy of Sex illustrations. Public sex should be nasty.

5/02/2006 09:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, these are not nasty and they're not especially erotic. Also, they're very white. It's interesting that an asian (I'm assuming asian-american) makes images of all white people.

5/02/2006 10:03:00 AM  
Anonymous carla said...

"The work is meant to be seen as neither retro nor kitschy. It is sincere and humble"

At the very least, she is playing a game of extreme irony with this imagery. I can't believe a sincere desire to show sweet sweet lovin' would lead one to this application.
It seems more a personal art challenge to make the message using contradictory means (no
small,or humble,feat).

Is it possible to deal with this subject sincerely? Are some subjects inevitably doomed to either cynicism or sentimentality?

5/02/2006 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Carla, when you say "this subject," do you mean sexual intercourse? Coitus?

Well, now I've gone and ruined it.

Seriously: I've tried in my drawings to deal with the subject of sex absolutely sincerely. I'm not sure if my sincerity makes its way across to the viewer. One viewer of my drawings online said they looked like a porno comic. This depressed me to no end.

I guess you could look at my drawings yourself, see what you think. Looking back on them -- I did them in 2001 -- I find maybe they're a little kitschy, actually. And I hate hate hate kitsch.

5/02/2006 01:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh, chris. i liked you so much better before i saw those drawings.

5/02/2006 02:36:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Good thing I don't much care what anonymous people think.

5/02/2006 02:39:00 PM  
Anonymous carla said...

Yes, the subject of sexual intercourse.

I believe you are sincere in presenting a non-seedy depiction. Your drawings are done in a way which is not inconsistant with this. But...once these hit the public arena, or if they are made for a public audience, I think they become something else.

5/02/2006 03:18:00 PM  
Anonymous carla said...

(more specifically, the subject of sweet sweet lovin')

5/02/2006 03:20:00 PM  
Anonymous burt said...

cuold you splain me drawing number 16 chris?

5/02/2006 06:07:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Burt: I'm going to go with probably not.

5/02/2006 06:32:00 PM  
Blogger JD said...

OK, well how about Japanese and Indian erotic miniatures? Now those are erotic. Could the erotics spring from their formal qualities? The line quality is so sensual, so filled with tension. Not illustrative, IMO.

Whew, back in a minute.

5/02/2006 07:37:00 PM  
Anonymous carla said...

jd, the erotic miniatures are both erotic and sweet. My reaction to them is much more accepting and trusting. I wonder how much their being from a different culture figures in.

5/02/2006 09:40:00 PM  
Blogger ec said...

Indian and Japanese erotic miniatures are completely hot. They are felt--the sinuous line wraps around and stings the forms as if part of the action between the forms. That kind of focus is not in this work, there is a screen of self-consciousness in this work--but I bet it was fun to make, and transgressive to draw for the artist.

5/02/2006 10:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the whiteness, mild bland youthfulness, and very low-key emotion in these are really off-putting to me--illustration-wise, the Joy of Sex analogy is right-on--they just seem ludicrous--and they have nothing to do with "real" sex of kids in the 70's, as far as I'm concerned--more like some older generation's fantasy of what might've been going on--and P.S. it's also a bit of a current fantasy that that was a "simpler, more innocent" time--it was complicated and hard in different ways but not really easier

5/03/2006 08:24:00 AM  
Blogger brent hallard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/03/2006 08:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NO everyone was not white back then, "nostalgically speaking"--kind of a dumb remark--
au contraire--some of us are actually nostalgic for the intensely real and unmediated mixing it up that happened during that brief and vibrant time.

5/03/2006 08:34:00 AM  
Blogger brent hallard said...

It was meant to be a dumb, stupid, shallow, as well as potent remark, superficial, more Asian background orientated, though 'understood' it was glib.

Part of my reading of the imagery.
Please don't take offense!

5/03/2006 08:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

okay duh guess I jumped the gun too early in the morning!--but see also how this contemporary climate of "irony" messes with your mind no matter what time of day it is? it's tricky

5/03/2006 09:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tracy Nakayama's works were presented at two solo exhibitions and one group exhibition at Modern Culture At The Gershwin Hotel. No signage, advising visitors about the content of the work was ever posted.

In fact, it was possible to clearly see the work through the gallery's front window.

5/03/2006 09:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Karl Zipser said...

Edward, it seems to me that the most daring picture is the one with the baby. It is perhaps the only picture that is a construction, rather than a direct transposition of a photograph. I've been out of the U.S. for awhile, but if I recall, mixing sex and kids in one picture was not casually done.

Is this aspect of the first picture an important part of your on-line exhibition? I would guess you sweated over this one a bit, even after your "loathing fear" post -- but perhaps I am wrong. Anyway, it seems there is a deafening silence about it in the comments, as though no one noticed. Would you care to explain your viewpoint further? Are you implying that sex and babies are somehow connected? Seriously, I'd like to hear more about your selection

5/03/2006 09:58:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


Actually I chose that image with the baby because it struck me as the most sweet of Tracy's images. A family, yes naked, but in a loving composition that suggests only good associations to me. Yes the adults are doing something an older child shouldn't see, but there's a sense that infancts can't remember things from that age and so no harm done, IMO. Although, it should be noted that I am not a child psychologist, so ...

5/03/2006 10:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Karl Zipser said...

I think you are right about the sweetness aspect. Still, I find it a bold choice, for you and the artist. I assume that here she is improving on her primary film source. Have you seen this theme presented often, or is this treatment unusual for a painting?

5/03/2006 10:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a great piece of writing about this "sexual parents" topic and its wider implications in the novel, The Good Mother by Sue Miller.
I'll bet this scene is familiar to many who were once new parents but most probably wouldn't talk openly about it for the reasons you state.
It doesn't look like a very well made painting though, at least in this version.

5/03/2006 10:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Karl Zipser said...

As I mentioned above, I'm biased against pictures from photos. That said, I think Nakayama has done some interesting work. I don't agree with the comments say it is kitsch. The picture with the baby is perhaps the most awkward technically, but this is probably because it is in a sense a montage of photos. I'm inclined to be forgiving about technical results when an artist departs from a slavish dependence on photos -- even if it is only a case of combining photos, rather than working from a single one.

5/03/2006 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Karl: The painting with the infant is very sweet. And as a parent I remember similar scenes from my own life. I don't know that we don't talk about them openly; they just don't come up often. Most people of my acquaintance would rather not know that their friends are having sex of any kind.

I thought the image was an interesting choice since I'm currently reworking an image of my own involving an infant and sex. But my painting isn't very sweet, I'm afraid.

Nakayama's painting, because it's from disparate photo sources, reminds me of nothing so much as Ge t Your War On.

5/03/2006 11:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

atm has images from the show postedon their site.

5/12/2006 09:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the baby drawing is not a montage.. this i am sure of. tracy rarely if ever makes montage drawings.

12/27/2006 11:06:00 AM  

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