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Not Another Nude: Jennifer Rubell and Brandi Twilley Take on the Male Gaze

A new series of diptych portraits by Brad Jones—the “next sensational, aggressive American (male) painter,” according to the press release—is opening Wednesday, October 29 at Sargent’s Daughters in Lower Manhattan. Who is this Brad Jones? Well for one, he’s not a single person—or, for that matter, a man—but he is indeed a great, “sensational, aggressive” artist.

Brad Jones is the name of an ongoing collaboration between art world-fixture, hostess, and conceptual artist Jennifer Rubell and the painter Brandi Twilley, who are showing their series of collaborative paintings for the first time in “Diptychs,” which runs at Sargent’s Daughters, located at 179 East Broadway, through December 7.

Brad Jones, Blue Hair, 2014, oil on canvas, diptych. COURTESY SARGENT'S DAUGHTERS.

Brad Jones, Blue Hair, 2014, oil on canvas, diptych.

COURTESY SARGENT’S DAUGHTERS 

“We liked the name Brad Jones because it was a loose combination of our names, but also because it was a name that you could imagine on a plaque next to the paintings in a museum,” said Rubell. “We wanted a name that recalls, to me, some macho Midwestern guy who’s probably a handler at Gagosian right now, but someday, it’s going to be the name of a great painter. That name turned out to be Brad Jones.”

The series of oil-on-canvas paintings depict Rubell nude, and range from heavily gestural, abstracted works with bright, unexpected coloring to hyper-realistic, muted works. Rubell remains frontal but is framed differently in each diptych, with different features of her body or the studio setting highlighted or hidden. All the formal choices were made by Twilley, who had complete freedom in her painting. In turn, Rubell is anything but coquettish; she stares the viewer straight in the eye.

“My pose is a pose of equality with the viewer,” Rubell said. “I’m staring right back at you. It’s a pose in defiance of the traditional female pose. And at the same time it is a nude portrait rather than a nude painting. It’s specifically me, it’s a depiction of an individual rather than just a nameless nude.”

The project began not as a collaboration, but as a conceptual piece by Rubell herself, in which she planned to critique both the male gaze and the myth of the aggressively masculine male painter by subjecting herself to that gaze in a series of nude portraits, where eight male painters painted her all at once. She described this as “a kind of painting gang-bang.”

Things did not go as planned. Rubell put an ad on the website of the New York Foundation for the Arts, receiving hundreds of responses, but she kept returning to the work of one woman, Twilley. Laughing, she said, “The trajectory from gang-bang to collaboration is an awesome trajectory, even if it wasn’t my original intention.”

Brad Jones, Car, 2014 oil on canvas, diptych. COURTESY SARGENT'S DAUGHTERS

Brad Jones, Car, 2014, oil on canvas, diptych.

COURTESY SARGENT’S DAUGHTERS 

The pair meet for two hours a day, three days a week, for what Rubell calls “private performances.”

“It was really freeing to work with Jennifer like this,” said Twilley. “I felt like doing things that weren’t specific to my practice. When you’re painting the same subject, I thought I may as well try different things and stretch myself… The abstracted works came later, after painting her I eventually had the urge to scribble in the paint, and just went for it.” (“I pose, she paints,” Rubell said of their methods.)

Rubell said she wanted Twilley to feel “total freedom.” Though Rubell was vulnerable as a nude model, Twilley had it even worse. “It’s only my body I’m showing,” she said, “a painter is expected to reveal her soul!”

While the paintings of Brad Jones do not catch the male gaze in action, as Rubell originally intended, they do turn the traditional, misogynistic relationship between model and painter on its head, giving both the sitter and the painter equal footing so that they share authorship of the work. As Twilley said: “We get along. We didn’t need to speak too much because we were always in agreement.” Rubell added that she felt the diptychs are “a correction to [the] historical inaccuracy” in which the model is “some nameless naked woman” and the painter is the sole author of the work.

Brad Jones, Studio Lights, 2014, oil on canvas, diptych.  COURTESY SARGENT'S DAUGHTERS

Brad Jones, Studio Lights, 2014, oil on canvas, diptych.

COURTESY SARGENT’S DAUGHTERS 

“I have the instinct that if a male painter would have done this,” Rubell said, “that specificity of depicting me as a human, as Jennifer, would not have been as pronounced. I might have become a ‘nude,’ in the token sense of the word, and as it stands now, I’m definitely not another nameless ‘nude.’”

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