Now at BAM: A very real kind of nudity

Sculptor Kathy Venter's new show explores the imperfection and vulnerability of bodies in transition.
Crosscut archive image.

"Coup d'Oeil #6," 2013 by Kathy Venter

Sculptor Kathy Venter's new show explores the imperfection and vulnerability of bodies in transition.

If you take the elevator to the 3rd floor of the Bellevue Arts Museum, the doors will open to an arresting terra cotta sculpture of a nude woman. She’s life sized, with long thin fingers. She’s seated in a chair, gazing not quite at you but at something. She looks relaxed.

One-half of her body is splattered with plaster, so she looks like she’s in transition, not entirely finished shedding her skin or maybe she’s in the process of layering herself completely with one more coat.

And that evolution — from one state to another — is one of the themes artist Kathy Venter hopes to capture in her work.

Crosscut archive image.

"Coup d'oeil," 2010-2011, 2013 by Kathy Venter. Photo: David Borrowman

“I’m interested in that transition from being a child to being a young woman,” Venter says in a telephone interview from her studio on Saltspring Island, B.C.

Crosscut archive image.More than 30 of her life-sized sculptures are on display at the Bellevue Arts Museum. The title of the show is “Kathy Venter: LIFE.” It’s an absorbing meditation on the human body. It’s also decidedly playful. Several sculptures hang from wires, somersaulting and/or “flying” through the air.

Image at right: "Immersion 11" 2004-2006 by Kathy Venter, Photo by David Borrowman

This last group of sculptures — the ones strung on wires — were modeled from photographs of models swimming underwater. Some are clothed. And you can’t always tell if the sculptures represent women or men.

But the majority are female nudes. Bodies with a visible pelvic bone. Bodies with breasts that would fill a bra sized C, maybe D. Bodies of all types, seated, standing, even slumbering.

“When I was an art student, men were doing torsos with no arms and no heads,” Venter says. “I just knew that that was not figurative sculpture.”

Venter’s models are all women she knows well; women who live on the island and who give her six weeks of posing time. They are women who unmistakeably trust her.

“There’s something that happens between a female sculptor and a female model,” she says. "They’re generous with me. There’s no trying to pull in their tummies or to look coy. There’s no projection of an expected type of beauty or an expectation of something sexual.”

Which isn’t to say the women don’t always feel confident in their own skin. One sculpture shows a nude woman on the ground sleeping, one arm covering her eyes.

Crosscut archive image.

Metanarrative Series, Tokai, 2012 by Kathy Venter. Photo: David Borrowman

Venter says the model had recently given birth and had actually mentioned wanting to wait until I got my figure back.

But Venter convinced the woman to pose. The artist wanted to capture that fuller post-pregnancy body, a body ready to nurse and one that’s seldom seen in public.

“I want to use the female body as a language that people can have to see our humanity,” she says.

“I had one woman write to me: ‘I went around the whole show and I enjoyed every piece. And almost when I got to the end, I found myself.’"

“I took that as a deep and complete compliment.”

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