Skin Deep


Everyone has it. Taut or wrinkled, dry or soft, its the buffer between our insides and the outside world. But skin can be more than that (sometimes less), and the Target Gallerys newest exhibit looks to get at whats behind our hides.

In the Flesh 3, in its third year, is as varied as the worlds skin tones. In the small gallery inside the Torpedo factory, a painting of a man wearing nothing but an apron, shoes and socks butts up against a video of actors performing an autopsy on a lounger.

By virtue of contrast, complementarity [sic.], or commonality, between the content and formal qualities of strong individual works, these [pieces] collectively formed a larger conversation about the human body, eliciting questions that sustain and renew its relevance in art, Dr. Jamie Smith says in her jurors statement. 

Smith, curator and partner at D.C.s Conner Contemporary gallery, whittled about 630 entries into 28 unique, figurative pieces of various media, said Mary Cook, Target Gallerys director.

Its not just figurative art, Cook said. In the flesh can mean a lot of different things. Its about exploring the relationship between contemporary art and humanity.

Just what that relationship is depends on the artwork. While the show begs interpretation, some artists have a better idea of their works meaning than others.

Local painter Judith Peck sees skin as a veil of objectivity, at least in a perfect world. She won best in show for Veiled Gender and Considering the Veil, two haunting oil portraits tied to a theory of law and justice. Based partly on political philosopher John Rawls veil of ignorance concept, the figures entrapping stares summon the unifying make-up of all humans and the importance of lawmakers to ignore background and social status and be able to step on either side of the law, Peck says.

I want the viewer to be engaged, lock eyes and not feel different than them, Peck says. I want the viewer to be able to see that theyre not the other that were all made up of exactly the same things.

A few paces away from Pecks work is a bold oil painting on a large, linen surface by Rhinebeck, N.Y., artist Nadine Roberts. It depicts a plumpish woman with a rolling pin, assumedly trying to flatten her husbands round, naked hind parts with her utensil of choice.

The Rollin Buns, as its titled, is light, funny and literally skin deep in its meaning. Roberts sees flesh as a simple fact of life, an essential element of the human form.

I thought it was just a funny interpretation of a figurative painting, she said. Its as simple as that. In the flesh means its a person, and thats about it.

And then theres Pennsylvania artist Ann Piper. Shes won acceptance into the show each year by a different juror, making it hard to believe she isnt a dermatologist. Her piece, Bird of Prey, shows a fire-headed and effervescent former student of Pipers, seemingly unaware of the seagull eyeing her fare skin from behind.

But Piper likes to raise more questions than answers.

What I really love is dropping suggestions, she said. Its just a play on this idea of what a bird of prey is. Is there going to be an altercation? Or is it more like the bird is coming home to roost in that nest of hair? Sometimes girls are called birds, so maybe she is actually the bird.

I want [viewers] to have a moment where they have to think about and come up with their own ideas, she said.