From Francisco de Goya’s “The Nude Maja” to Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ “Grande Odalisque” to Edouard Manet’s “Olympia,” the female in repose has long been one of art history’s favorite subjects. In fact, you’re statistically more likely to come across a painting of a naked woman hanging on a museum wall than a painting actually produced by a woman, because the art world is maddeningly frustrating like that.
Thankfully Brooklyn-based artist Robin F. Williams is here to jumble our expectations in the best of ways, giving men the long-awaited opportunity to be the models for once. Her exhibition, entitled “Sons of the Pioneers,” features romanticized males in their most idle of states — in poses rarely highlighted in the pages of art history. In a Lisa Yuskavage-esque candy colored palette, Williams depicts men in all their five-o’clock-shadowed glory, lounging in sun hats, bathing under waterfalls or tanning amidst the cacti.
P.P.O.W. Gallery cites the progressive femininity of Mary Cassatt as well as the psychedelic texture of Lisa Frank in reference to Williams’ work, a truly inspired coupling if we do say so ourselves. The painted figures, many of whom don hats, scarves and other stylish accessories, are also reminiscent of Mickalene Thomas’ portraits in their thoughtful incorporation of personal stylings and identity. Blurring the lines between one’s interior and exterior self, Williams continues her exploration of a constantly shifting individual, one that in this case is created by both artist and subject.
Williams’ work, free from snark or negativity, challenges the unspoken myth that only female bodies are innately more worthy of pictorial immortality, showing the undeniable beauty of a hairy-chested male physique. The paintings are bursting with affirmation, both for the male bodies inhabiting the frames and the female artist who painted them into being. Subverting the common tropes of patriarchy and power, Williams offers up an alternate artistic universe in which the reclining nude can rock both sun hats and goatees.