Anatomy of a Successful Nude

Review of the exhibition at the Sable/Castelli Gallery

By John Bently Mays

Globe and Mail, December 29, 1993

Each luminous, unsettling photographic print in this display depicts the body of the same woman - or, to be more precise, the everlastingly interesting terrain between her chin and thigh - in a different, highly stylized and always unconventional pose.

The topic, of course, is as old as visual art, and as durable as photography itself. But if the nude has been the stock in trade of photography throughout the craft’s 150-odd years, it has always been the occasion of triteness and trash which, in turn, has made it a target of sensible feminist criticism.

What makes this exhibition sharply notable is the way Toronto artist Michael Torosian has gone about rethinking and reinventing this old, tired subject. This he has done by rejecting both succulent eroticism and abstract formalism - and embracing the quasi-scientific art of choreography as his source of pictorial inspiration.

“I was intrigued by the idea of the choreographer moulding his dancer, like a sculptor, into a variety of characters,” Torosian has written. “My objective was to merge the examples of history and the language of movement into images that could only exist photographically.”

The result, on show here, is ravishing, though unnerving, provocative and alluring by turns. In the matter of ordinary human defects and details - scars, blemishes, asymmetries, bony angles - Torosian’s lens is merciless, and the pictures seemed deliberately drained of sexiness. The camera’s gaze is fixed instead on the structural geometry of this posed, manipulated woman, as she stands poised in a moment of physical tension.

In each frame, the artist has used his unnamed model’s striking bodily contrasts - her powerfully muscled hands and bony arms, thighs rounded like marbled statuary and obtrusive hip-bones - to stunning advantage, infusing her with the heft of sculpture, a forbidding power, an expression of the feminine as almost geologic force. If you happen to miss this show, which you shouldn’t, there is always the book to see and savour: a slender limited-edition folio of some nude photos of the late 1980s, bound together with Torosian’s sensitive and sophisticated writings.

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