Nude! Nude! Nude!

The naked truth behind Sarah Bain Gallery

Photo by Jack GouldYou know, I love the nude people. I do. There they are, bein' all nude, their awe-inspiring bellies floating free in the sunshine as if to say, "Hey! Look at me! I'm a big fat belly!" Or else they're real old and lizardy from too much nude volleyball in the '70s, when they were 38 and just starting to get the hang of their "alternative lifestyle." And the breasts! Why, the breasts alone could tell you stories you most assuredly don't want to hear, about the heyday of ludes and wife-swapping, their sad nipples descending ever faster toward the warm welcome of the ground below.

People are nuder in other places than they are here. I was walking in a park in Berlin once when I saw a man in his 60s sunning himself sublimely on the grass. Was he nude? Yes, he was! His pink skin stretched itself over his huge stomach, as hard and firm as if he'd just eaten some newborn triplets. His white beard (they all have white beards) lay upon his chest like the softest blanket. I was scared, and Iwalked quickly by.

Here, if you want nude, you have to go see The Lifestyle, the indie documentary about our Costa Mesa grandfolks who swap wives and hate fags and niggers. Key party, anyone?

Or, if that's just a bit too much for you, go to a fine-art gallery! People are always being nude there for no discernible reason a'tall. And yet—and here's the important part, I'm pretty sure—they're never doing anything very interesting. They're never driving a car in the nude, or going to UC Berkeley in the nude, or stopping by the post office in the nude, or feeling up cantaloupes in the nude. They're always inside, shuttered away, being nude in the privacy of their homes. And even there, they're never cooking, or reading, or scrubbing the bathtub. Nope. They stretch. They recline. They languish like timid doves waiting for the sultan to break up the monotony of the harem by coming to their rooms and lapping at their expensively oiled skins. They are sooooo passive.

On the newly glamorous stretch of Birch Street in Brea (redeveloped with glittery sidewalks by the man responsible for Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade), the Sarah Bain Gallery perches eagerly. Above it, artists' lofts sit grandly, no doubt filled with yuppies who've padded the waiting list to an excruciating interminability. It's nice there; there's a terrific furniture store, some shops for blown-glass gewgaws, and expensive chain restaurants on whose patios smirk people with great hauteur. Dig it!

Sarah Bain, relocated from a cute corner of Fullerton, is smaller than before, but it now has two-story ceilings and more natural light than a frat-house fridge. And you know what else it has? Naked people! That's right! All of them! Naked as jaywalkers! Are they doing anything interesting? Not really. Mostly they stretch and recline and languish. But! They sometimes stretch, recline and languish outside.

There are exceptions. "Estrangement," a series of naked womens and mens by one Poly, shows nude peeps on amber and goldenrod backgrounds crouching and drawing lines on the ground. It shows scenes of expulsion from the Garden after Ghiberti's cathedral doors, Adam's fig leaf staying put with only the grace of God for adhesive. Expulsion gleams like a Rembrandt or a van Eyck, its heavily lacquered black a pretty foil for the Dubinesque rotting-fish-green of Adam and Eve's bellies and the alcoholic-red of the archangel's nose.

The Beach features the apple of knowledge as an almost anthropomorphized character. Half-eaten, it has fallen from the hands of a sleeping naked couple stretched out on a barren length of beach ringed by far-off mountains. It's easy to read it as a post-nuclear cautionary tale, especially when associated with the apocalyptic novel of the same name. We haven't had a good renaissance of nuke fear since the heyday of The Day After in the mid-'80s—which is odd, considering the number of rogue nations that now have nuclear capabilities and the disappearance of all those kilotons of plutonium from former Soviet republics. Thanks, Poly! Bed of Roses is uncharacteristically girly and lovely, with bright, un-Poly-like splashes of crimson and dusky pink. Two naked people lie (naked) on scattered petals and overblown buds, while naked. The naked breasts are just as floppy and ripe as the flowers, and a woman's face looks like bad-ass writer-chick Cintra Wilson's.

Only a couple of works are baldly silly. Ophelia doesn't look dead enough; I'd rather see her facedown and bloated and half-nibbled and a cool mix of lavender and avocado. And Naiad features a girl sleeping or dead on the sand, thrown back by the waves. Her elbows are above her head to thrust her breasts forward, and it looks like a soft-porn spread. Turnoffs: mean people. Turn-ons: moonlit walks on the beach and drowning.

But probably the silliest and most satisfying work in the show is Figure With Door. (And wasn't that a porn title, or close to one?) In this Edward Hopper homage, a dame with old-fashioned hair sits—NAKED!—on the floor in the corner of her room. I am often naked, but for some reason, I NEVER sit naked on the floor or in a corner. Who does that? Sad people, that's who, when the misery just overcomes them and all they can do is flop down, gravity just too great to resist. Hey, look! I'm naked on the floor! It's perfect, really. Though it might be even more perfect if she were frying some bacon instead of sitting there all glum. Take charge of your destiny! And if you're frying bacon, don't burn yourself while you're doing it in the nude.

"Estrangement" at SARAH BAIN GALLERY, 110 W. Birch St., ste. B-2, Brea, (714) 255-1447; www.sarahbaingallery.com. Thru July 10.

 
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