Jennifer Rubell and Brandi Twilley on Why Everyone Should Have A Nude Portrait
Rubell is wearing nothing but a pair of heavy-duty ski socks.
You may have heard a new name being spoken lately on the art scene, one that, oddly, sounds quite a bit like every other name you’ve heard on the art scene: Brad Jones. But who is Brad Jones?
An invention of artists Jennifer Rubell and Brandi Twilley, Brad Jones is not just the name of the duo’s upcoming show at Sargent’s Daughters. He is a presence in their artistic process, as well as a symbol of the kind of stereotypical white male artist whose work is likely to be found hanging on a museum wall. “We think of him as this sort of character,” Rubell said, “[He’s] maybe an art handler at Gagosian. That kind of guy, a great modern painter.”
Rubell is perched on a stool inside a chilly, industrial Williamsburg studio, wearing nothing but a pair of heavy-duty ski socks. It is a natural pose, one that she has taken many times over the past year and half of her collaboration with Twilley. The partnership began, as so many have, when Rubell posted an ad on NYFA. She was initially looking for several macho male artists to paint her all at once in a kind of “painting gang bang,” as she puts it. But once Twilley’s work landed in her inbox, she couldn’t get it out of her head. Brad Jones was born.
The works are all diptychs, varying in degrees of realism, which show Rubell or a negative space where she would be, as is sometimes the case, naked and confronting the viewer head on. They are strong, arresting images that present the nude female body in a raw and human way. They inhabit that rare ground between the perfectly airbrushed and the wholly unappealing, where a woman is allowed to be a real person.
“Nothing is done for the paintings. We don’t arrange the studio for [them]. There’s nothing I do for my body…it’s just as I am that day,” Rubell explains. There is also a palpable level of relaxation in the works that’s a testament to the mutual respect and enjoyment the women share. While it is Twilley doing the painting, they agree that they are both represented equally in the end product.
Rubell tells me that the process of sitting for a painted portrait, something few people in the 21st century will ever get to experience, is one of the most meditative experiences she has ever had. “When you’re being painted, you’re sitting for so long that you just kind of arrive at yourself,” she says.
After finishing a diptych, Rubell and Twilley have a ritual. They climb into a large wooden box suspended on the wall, originally intended to be the viewing platform for the exhibition, and examine the pieces. It is the perfect place to view art—the space is clean and white, the light is bright, and the works sit at eye-level. There are no distractions, nothing to cloud your judgement or line of sight. The pair eventually decided against using the boxes for the show out of fear that they would become distracting. “It’s putting another frame around the work that doesn’t need to be there…it makes it more experiential, and the experience of the painting is [ultimately] undermined,” Rubell says.
I ask Rubell how she feels looking at herself nude. She tells me she is “the least exhibitionist person,” but I also imagine that anyone cool with inviting a journalist to witness something like this must have solid confidence. “You go through life and you’re seeing yourself in relation to so many things, like other people that you know, your former self, and of course, in relation to images in popular culture,” she says. “And now I really see myself in relation to my depicted self, which is a much more pleasurable experience because your depicted self actually has this kind of iconic strength, whereas thinking of yourself in relation to Kim Kardashian or some other celebrity is an unrewarding thought process.”
Brad Jones and I agree that perhaps everyone ought to have their portrait painted.
Brad Jones (an ongoing collaboration between Brandi Twilley and Jennifer Rubell), “Diptychs” is on display at Sargent’s Daughters from October 29-December 7, 2014.
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