Sexually Charged Paintings: What Truly Meets the Eye?
(1) The gaze that Mel Ramos’ nude wears [Figure 1] stares deep into the observer’s libido. While the figure’s exceedingly open sexuality, completed with a sandy tan and voluptuousness, may discomfit some viewers, others may find it titillating as it more explicitly invites the observer to take sexual advantage of the figure’s horizontal position and spread legs. The nude in Touché Boucher is not dressed in subtle flesh tones like Boucher’s reclining figure [Figure 2] from the Rococo, but she conserves the intentions of the usage of the reclining position even in the form of Pop Art. These timeless objectives, according to Leppert and Ferrara, constitute shocking the audience before them, carnally interesting the drifting male spectator and expressing a stylistic art movement that consumes its day. Because what the audience considered shocking and men considered beautiful had changed from the eighteenth-century to the 1970s, Ramos needed to make alterations to Boucher’s Reclining Nude in order to aptly sway its new spectators. This, though, was only a small part of Ramos’ motive for the alterations he made. Mel Ramos exaggerates selected characteristics from Reclining Nude to mock the objectification of the female nude in the reclining position, and I believe the significant extent to which he blatantly exposes the misrepresentation of women in art needs to be detected. (2) The nude in Mel Ramos’ Touché Boucher is posed identically to Boucher’s nude and viewed from the same angle as she is. The scaled width of their spread legs and the centering of their posterior in the painting, as well as the position of their feet on the tumbled drapes and arms against the head of the divan they lie on, display indistinguishable compositions. Although Touché Boucher is more than double the size of Reclining Nude, it still remarkably preserves the reclining position to scale. However, everything else has been altered in color, pattern, texture or form. For example, although both the nudes’ bodies are painted using oil on canvas, their skin tones are very different. While Boucher’s nude was formed by gentle, circular brushstrokes of white with pink blushes, Ramos’ nude shows no signs of brushstrokes on her orange skin-tone with tan lines as highlights. The figure in Touché Boucher is also significantly older. Her partially hidden breasts are slightly more developed, her midsection is more voluptuous and she exchanges Boucher’s figure’s innocent, wandering eyes for a glare that uses sexual experience to directly address her audience. The objects in Ramos’ recreation are adjusted too: cushions were added to the left-edge of the painting, the pink flowers were replaced by a larger and more prominent rose, and the drapes changed color from a regal gold to a deep, and still royal, purple. While some of these alteraions that Ramos made were to transform Boucher’s painting into a Reclining Nude that the audience in the 1970s could be explicitly tempted or shocked by, others were to mock the objectification of women who remain in this pose. (3) By preserving the reclining position, as well as changing his nude’s directional gaze and skin-tone, Ramos stunned his audiences in the 1970s. Firstly, the position itself is an unusual juxtaposition of high-class fine art and bare sex, and the inclusion of a female nude “involves a risk and threatens to destabilize the very foundations of our sense of order.” Lynda Nead, the author of The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity and Sexuality, explains that this because “the female nude is the border…between art and obscenity”. This in turn, according to Ferrara, is due to the fact that a figure in the reclining pose jades the concept of reality because it is infrequent that the audience to finds themselves facing the scene displayed in the painting. I believe that because the nude is so sexually charged, the audience expects her to be on a bed where...
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