I am no stranger to old, naked bodies, especially female. During the course of the hours I spend volunteering at the hospital, I see bodies ravaged by disease, scarred by surgery or just plain old. There is something about a hospital setting that allows for intimacy and a shedding of prudery. There is also a generosity in women who share their stories, complete with images to match.
Our society exalts the female form in all the glory of its youth – to a certain extent, Western culture has always done that, through the ages, and through literature and the visual arts but, in the last century, our obsession with beauty and youth has gathered strength and obliterated the process of aging from our collective consciousness.
It’s a shame. Because there is something inherently beautiful in a body that has walked through decades, withstood the blows of life – a body that incapsulate wisdom and a variegated narrative. A we should learn to love, not hide, long past its prime.
Aleah Chapin understands that, at the tender age of 28. Aleah paints enormous canvases of naked women, in all stages of life. Women she knows, who willingly posed for her.
“We [women] generally care more what we look like – probably too much at times, me included,” she says.
“Young women are still trying to fit in. I think when you get older you care less –that’s not a negative thing at all. You’re just more accepting.
“When you get past a certain age you become invisible – and that’s a whole other problem.
“For me, it’s about finding beauty in every imperfection.”
As I look at these realistic paintings, I am struck, once again, by the generosity of women and by the multitude of facets – feelings, stories, directions, roles – that we, as women embody at different stages in our lives. They are to be found in the sagging breasts and distended bellies of motherhood, in the folding skin of a good long life, in the strong legs that carried untold weights, in eyes filled with tenderness, in the acceptance.
An art critic called Aleah’s work “repellent…a grotesque medical record”. And maybe that is why the visual story of our bodies need to be told past the age of youth. Our bodies are vessels that keep on filling for decades, as interesting and multi-faceted as the rest of us.
If you are in London, you can see Aleah Chapin’s “Maiden, Mother, Child and Crone” at the Flowers Gallery until November 8.
The exhibition will travel to Los Angeles sometime next year.
Many thanks to Bonnie for putting this on my map.