The artist painted larger-than-life depictions of the female midsection
Upon first glance, John Kacere’s paintings could be mistaken for some NSFW photos. A quick search of his name in the Google search bar yields dozens of photos of bare women’s midriffs and bottoms.
The American artist originally began his career as an abstract expressionist in the 1950s and ‘60s. Works such as Homage to Stuart Davis (1952) feature the same bold geometric shapes painted in primary colors that many artists of the same era, like Joan Miró, are recognized for. These pieces contrast many of his series from the same period, such as three works (1959-1963), which feature a collection of very minimal strokes and shapes on paper.
Kacere experimented with a variety of media, including pencil, graphite and collage, until the late 1960s, when he settled on the oil-on-canvas photorealistic style that he is known for today. One of his first works, Untitled (bikini) (1970), depicts a close-up of a woman’s bikini line. She wears white lingerie, and the shading is so detailed that it appears as though the painting is an enlarged photograph. The painting is nearly 50 inches wide and 40 inches tall — that is over three times “life size.”
The artist maintained this style for the rest of his career, assembling a collection of roughly 130 works, according to the Louis K. Meisel Gallery. Over the years, the New York City gallerist, Louis Meisel, has worked to collect them in order to offer a retrospective of Kacere’s career. Meisel is said to have discovered Kacere’s work via his wife, Susan Pear Meisel, who met Kacere in 1966 when she was a student at Parsons School of Design, where Kacere taught.
In a statement on his gallery website, Meisel writes: “I might point out that Kacere’s work CAN be seen as all three parts of realist painting, portrait, still life AND landscape.”
This quote encompasses many of the aspects present in Kacere’s paintings. Some, like Meisel, have compared the works to landscapes, describing the curve of the womens’ hips as “[building] a terrain across each canvas.” Others, like Melt, have observed the classical resemblance and quality of his work which “could be attributed to the luxurious materials and skin on display.”
While his focus on the beauty of the nude body was recognizably influenced by classical sculptures, it is also interesting to note his displays of female fashions, which make the paintings resemble still lifes. In each work, the depicted woman is clad in a new, intricate and luxurious set of lingerie, and sprawled against luscious patterned silks and satins. The fabrics are shown in a similar manner to the way most still lifes depict ceramic vases or ripe fruit.
His work has, unsurprisingly, been described as erotic and provocative. There is no doubt Kacere was fascinated with the female figure, which, of course, has raised questions regarding objectification. According to Fad, Kacere once stated that “Woman is the source of all life, the source of regeneration. My work praises that aspect of womanhood,” in reply to criticism about his chosen subject matter.
The verdict is still out among art writers and critics on whether Kacere’s work is, in fact, problematic or not. However, his “body” of work makes it clear that he redefined the way we perceive the modern female nude.
Graphic by Taylor Reddam.