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Letting Loose
A Triumvirate Of Artists Explores The Supposedly Unsuppressed
Thigh Master by Larry Scott

THIGH MASTER: One Of Larry Scott’s Spontaneous Drawings.


The theme at Touchet Gallery this spring is tasteful eroticism, perhaps in homage to the sexually notorious time of year. Patricia Touchet has selected a trio of male artists--Ray Donley, Larry Scott, and Christopher Smith--to make Uninhibited's subject incarnate. So the object of the artists' subject is, without exception, the young, voluptuous female nude.

It's not Touchet's fault that eroticism usually boils down to a nubile female, particularly so if the aim is to be tasteful. To suggest even restrained lust for any other body type is to poke a stick at taste, that delightful portmanteau of a word.

She has done an admirable job of developing the theme through diverse points of view. The three artists answer the call from parallel bends of mind. Christopher Smith, the sculptor in the group, instills an angelic purity in his languid, reclining nymphs. He invites his models to assume poses that reflect their own sense of tranquility and composure. This they do, principally in comfortable positions, as he gently fixes their every innocent orb and crevasse into a satin loveliness that time may undo in the flesh but not in aluminum or gypsum cement. These are elegantly pretty sculptures, honed in academic style with just enough tummy to suggest a real person, but small hands and feet to invite a masculine protective impulse or fascination--which is where the eroticism of these works may partly reside. Otherwise, these are figures that safe-keep their sitters' integrity. Smith aerates the facial features of a few with just a breath of WPA style in the personality of the lines. It makes those faces strong, though benign. Their eyes are generally closed to allow them privacy even while objectification occurs around them.

Ray Donley obsesses over the middle-aged conflict between mortality and libido in his vanitas version of eroticism. The works appear to subscribe to Nietzsche's statement that real men thrive only on danger and play and that woman is the most dangerous of their playthings. Bondage, masks, hoods, handcuffs, skulls, and a dildo (tastefully described as a device) outfit these dangerous liaisons with wicked women in dark places. He refers to them as Los Bien Perdidos, which he translates as the Profoundly Lost Ones. A pun perhaps?

Donley is a talented, accomplished painter, especially of skin, which he bestows with a vulnerable, bruisable quality. He is also a satisfactory draftsman for his moody, iconic mixed-media works on paper. Still, despite defending his work from being found clichéd by quoting Clement Greenberg--on restoring the dominion of Old Master works from the "hypertrophied . . . avant-garde"--in his artist statement, you may find it standard anyway. But when you're talking about the dark, primal male psyche, maybe cliché is a moot point.

Larry Scott comes closest to reaching the brass ring of the show's title. These are remarkable, spontaneous painting/drawings with some anxious Willem de Kooning churning within. They came to life as Scott listened at erotic poetry readings and sketched away, a sort of psychological plein-airism. What recommends these images of seduction, particularly among the others, is their openness to possibilities.

They are not as classically serene, luscious, or come-hither as Smith's nudes, but they are as haunting and evocative. They are not as specific about what forms of abuse you are in for as Donley's dominatrix images, but they are much more uncertain and disturbing. They are also much more generously human because they are wrought with imperfection, shiftiness, and irresolution. That is how we sinners are, especially when being uninhibited. Scott's confrontational nudes don't stand in for something--they are the thing.


Reprinted from The Baltimore City Paper