Departing from the cemented tendencies of centuries of art history is a tall order, but that is precisely what painter Kendric Tonn aims for in his work. The figurative painter is on a mission to equalize nudity in painting by presenting both genders, through what he calls “a state of radical equality.”
This isn’t a call to desexualize the female nude after a millennia of oversexualized representation, nor is it a vindictive call to portray men in the same way in order to give them a taste of their own medicine. Rather, Tonn’s approach looks to promote the erotic nature of each gender without falling into a wide range of predetermined cultural traps. Whether depicting a male or female, the artist looks to create something beautiful with emotional depth that can be appreciated regardless of your own gender and sexual preference.
Tonn’s fascination with the nude comes from what he believes is an inherent interest all humans possess in one another: “I think that the nude is just a naturally interesting subject—as human beings we’re programmed from the ground up to be interested in other people,” the painter tells The Creators Project. “I’m not specifically talking about the sexual impulse (although that’s there too, of course), but simply the desire to perceive other people, and what could be more open to perception than the nude?”
“As a painter though, I’m not trying to observe but also to express, and the universality of the naked figure is an important part of what I’m trying to say: that we were all bare, forked animals a thousand years ago, and will be, a thousand years from now,” Tonn adds. “If I could have one wish as an artist, it would be to create a spark of human sympathy that passes from my model and me to someone in the far future.”
While an empathetic outlook is clearly present in his works, a sense of vulnerability or unguarded accessibility permeates his paintings as well. More than just his painterly talent, this is a result of Tonn’s intimate relationship with his subjects: “My process with my models is lengthy, and part of the reason is so that I can answer this question: what does a person’s face show when we’ve spent dozens or hundreds of hours together, and my own presence has faded out of their consciousness?”
Go to Kendric Tonn’s website for more of his intimate figurative paintings, as well as his elegant still lifes.