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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Kendric Tonn

The Tenth Year, 2013, Kendrick Tonn
Can a young, reasonably good-looking, male artist in his mid-thirties today paint predominantly male nudes without being labeled gay? That's the quandary I face in admiring, reading, and writing on the Columbus, Ohio, painter, Kendric Tonn. In doing so, I'm not going to attach such a designation to such an outstanding artist even though, as the Jerry Seinfeld gang used to proclaim repeatedly, "...not that there's anything wrong with that." Normally, I don't mention an artist's sexual orientation unless it has a more than passing influence on his or her art. Of course influence, like sexual orientation is a relative entity. An influence of any kind might be so slight as to be all but unnoticeable. Likewise, most gays, not to mention most psychologist, would readily agree the same applies to sexual orientation.
Bacchanal: Being Held Back by Hesitation, Kendric Tonn
That being the case, why mention sexual orientation at all? I probably wouldn't except for one fact of life such artists face--there is a third leg...perhaps I should say a third factor...every artist must contend with--his or her fans. In reading posted comments from Kendric Tonn's many admirers, it could easily be assumed that the majority of his art lovers are either slightly, somewhat, predominantly, or totally gay. The question next arising is, does the artist cater to this fan base or beat his or her own path through an inevitable thicket of preferred content. And if so, what does that content say about the nature of that artist? In Tonn's case, that line of reasoning brings us full circle back to the original question--does predominantly gay oriented content indicate a predominantly gay artist?
Painting men for men, with or without trousers.
The Monk,
Kendric Tonn
Tonn writes about this element of his work: "Although they are intended to be self-supporting as individual pieces, when taken as a body of work, my paintings of the figure are meant to dissolve the common categories of the nude figure and create a sensitive, humanistic view of the model which is both individual and egalitarian. The nude in contemporary art has certain normal categories: the erotic female nude intended for male viewers, a category too common to bother with examples; the bloodless heroic male nude, regularly seen in sports photography and notably in the 2006 film 300; [and] the erotic male nude intended exclusively for gay male viewers. It is my intention as a figurative painter to dissolve and unify these (and other) categories, a task that has particular relevance to me as a gay artist in a heterosexual world. I present, I hope, paintings of male and female models in a state of radical equality: humanized, but with attention to the aesthetic qualities of the figure; aware of the erotic potentiality of the nude, but without prurient interest or appeal limited to any specific sexuality; and most of all, as individuals with a sense of internal life, equal though never identical."
The nude male--mundane and mythical.
Kendric Tonn was born in 1982, a native of Phoenix, Arizona. He earned a BA in English from Sewanee: The University of the South, in 2004. Uncertain about his future, he then lived in Japan for a year, traveling, teaching, and--most of all--drawing, before deciding to seek formal artistic training. Tonn was trained in a traditional manner, one might even say a classical manner and style. Though his work has a naturalism that would never be mistaken for that of antiquity, his art training at the Florence Academy of Art, culminated in a masters degree in 2010. Florence has, since the Renaissance, been a bastion of humanism. The human experience has always been at the center of Kendric Tonn's work, reflecting enduring human concerns, themes, and stories, central to the most universal of all subjects, the human figure. His paintings, whatever other content they may have, depict individual people with common human feelings.
Art and humanism.
Needless to say, Kendric Tonn is a highly representational oil painter, working mainly with the nude figure. However his secondary painting interest is still-lifes. He is intensely occupied in the expression of form and the creation of visual patterning in his painting subjects, whether animate or inanimate. His work, particularly with the model, is also highly driven by the attempt to create a kind of three-way emotional sympathy, between the model, the artist, and the viewer as he tries to express a human presence, of a specific soul embedded in a specific body. Despite his love of painting, Tonn frequently returns to the pure drawing he learned as a neophyte painter. With these studies of the figure in pencil, or portraits in charcoal, he relishes the chance to concentrate on questions of line, shape, and value--pure drawing, the hard skeleton that will give structure to a painting or teach one to produce subtleties and variety in lines that expresses form with elegance and economy.

Would you believe, the same artist who mostly
paints nude men (and women) also paints

...and dirty dishes?


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