Featured image: Emily Ponsoby
Female form has been a subject of Art for many years now, however, we’ve recently seen a change in how it has been depicted. With more female artists being recognised – and rightly so – the visual representation of the female body is no longer the message told from an outsiders perspective, but, a story explained from female-identifying people themselves. To understand more about capturing nudity, creating artwork with meaning, and the purpose of craft we spoke to the talented Emily Ponsonby; the Cape Town-based artist presenting the beauty in nude bodies.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, what’s your background like? Did you study art? How did you begin painting and sculpting?
As a child I collected stones for their smoothness, bark for its markings and picked every brash blue pebble out of the mixed bag that lined the bottom of the fish tank. Colour, texture and aesthetics have widened my eyes from the word go. I studied at City & Guilds of London Art School before the wild weather of Edinburgh enticed me up there for 3 years at Leith School of Art. After a hot and heavenly summer drawing in Italy it was back to London where etching and a whole new outlook on the creation of art rolled into my life at The Royal Drawing School.
The truth, for which this is its debut, on why painting became so pivotal for me, is that during my late teens where my PCOS (Polycystic Ovaries) was at its worst the art room was my solace. It was a space that when a painting was going well made worries evaporate and a warm glow of goodness and content creep over me.
Three months ago I packed up my studio in London and moved to Cape Town for an almighty rejig of mind, body and soul.
On arrival into South Africa it was the vibrancy of the soil that I couldn’t ignore. Orange, ochre, grey, red and brown… as I bound them with egg yolk and water in order to draw out their natural pigments they reminded me of skin tones. Why do we describe ourselves as a single colour? We are all a myriad of hues, from one earth after all. It was this fascination with the earth that led me to pot. The correlation between the smoothness of clay with the suppleness of the female body is evident. Bodies curve, twist and bow, sculpted by lifestyle and genetics, and rock formations curve, twist and bow sculpted by the elements and years of water erosion.
If you can choose one, what has been your favourite achievement with your work?
In June 2017 I had my first solo Exhibition ‘SOAK’. It offered a glimpse into a state we can all identify with, but so rarely reflect on – the unfettered joy of real nudity. The Private View of ‘SOAK’ was the first time I felt a true artist. Gone were the insecurities and the embarrassment, I had worked the hardest I had ever worked and this was the result. My work was hanging high for all to see and to have an opinion on, and, for the first time this didn’t worry me; all I felt was pride and effervescing excitement.
Why did you choose to create work based on the female form?
Nude bodies are timeless. They are true; they are forever moving, growing, loving, thinking, and reflecting. For some people, being nude in front of another is a horrific idea. How wonderful that we are all so different. Observing my sitters go through the process of becoming nude is incomparably wonderful. Arms slowly uncurl, chins rise, smiles spread and the body relaxes as confidence creeps up each vertebrate, one by one. By moving the studio into a bathroom, my sitters are presented in an environment where nudity most naturally abides; where the vulnerabilities sometimes associated with nakedness are replaced by comfort and security.
Do you think it’s important for more female creatives to depict the female body and subvert the male gaze?
I think it is crucial that life drawing re-emerges as an essential part of art schools today. I think the naked form, whether it is male or female, should be carefully studied and celebrated with a non-judgmental, respectful and correctly intentioned mind.
What are your hopes for your work? Do you have any major aims you’d like to fulfil?
I want to continue to explore the bodies and minds beneath the surface of life. Watching my sitters grow in confidence and relax in the presence of a paintbrush is very different to a photo shoot. It is the artist’s interpretation. Eyes link to brain, to hand and finally to canvas. And the result is a woman seeing her body through the eyes of another women, its individuality and form worthy of being captured on canvas for years to come.
What does beauty mean to you?
Beauty is purity.
It is honest and raw; the unrehearsed, unintentional and effortless creations of life. It is bone structure, skin pigmentation, rock formations and leaf skeletons; the revealing of a subjects true colours.