The last time Oregon ArtsWatch shined the light on Au Naturel: The Nude in the 21st Century, at Royal Nebecker Art Gallery in Astoria, it was 2020. Henk Pander was the juror, 32 artists from 14 states and Canada took part, and COVID was little more than a scary whispered “wait and see.” As it turns out, that was the last time the juried show was held.
Now, the show celebrating the nude human figure is back – with a twist and a tribute. For the first time, the show, which opens Thursday, is an invitational rather than the juried show first held in 2007, and it will honor Pander, who died last April at age 85. Pander’s work will be on exhibit – next to a family member’s (more about that shortly) — and he will be the honoree during a special reception set for Feb. 8 in the gallery.
Pander loved Astoria and often traveled from his Portland home to the historic riverfront town to paint, said Kristin Shauck, gallery director and founder of Au Naturel. “He had friends here. He felt working from life was such a crucial practice for artists. He was a huge supporter of our show, and the figure, of course. He loved to paint the nude as a subject matter. We were so lucky to have him jury the show before the pandemic.”
As part of the tribute to Pander, Shauck sought to invite artists with connections to the Dutch-born painter for this year’s show. Artists on exhibit include Ghislaine Fremaux, co-curator of the show and associate professor of art at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Fremaux has been in several previous Au Naturel shows, and won the People’s Choice award in 2017, the same year Pander earned the first-place award.
Following the 2017 show, Fremaux submitted a proposal for an exhibition in the gallery. The advisory panel responded that rather than a show of her own, she join Pander for a two-person show. Fremaux agreed.
“He just blew me away,” she said. “It was just a wonderful experience … a dreamy experience. It was so well received. We kept up through social media and email. We really did have a wonderful relationship. His work was so astonishing every time. So powerful. So much sensitivity. And he was such a lovely person.”
Of course, few have a greater connection to Henk Pander than his son, Arnold Pander, who will show alongside his father for the first time with two pieces: a boudoir-style 20th-century retro oil on velvet titled Sanda, and the monochromatic watercolor, Blue Corset. (For more on the Pander family, see related story.)
“It’s a real honor to be asked to be in a show with my father,” said Pander. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in a show, at least not a formal show like this, or even on the same wall. What’s neat about this is it deals with the subject of the nude, and what’s great about the idea of a nude is it’s really a tradition. We kind of come from a family of narrative artists. And so, there’s some synergy between the works even though we have very different backgrounds and very different influences.”
Seventeen years ago, when Shauck created the show in the Clatsop Community College art gallery, she did so with the hope of giving “my students the opportunity to see the amazing figurative artwork that is being done,” she said. “We’re kind of in a remote location and to have the artists come to us and hold the show…”
Thanks to her early vision, the Royal Nebeker has some “amazing works” purchased from artists who were building their careers when the gallery could still afford to buy them, Shauck said. And the show’s reach and draw has exceeded anything Shauck could have imagined in those early years.
Since its inception in 2007, Au Naturel has attracted submissions from artists from Turkey, India, Japan, Taiwan, England, France, Italy, Canada, and Mexico. The exhibition has included work from emerging talents as well as mid- to late-career professionals. This year’s exhibit showcases 25 artists, including for the first time, a sculpture in the round — a bronze by Astoria artist Paul Polson.
Along with exposing her students to fine figurative artists, Shauck also conceived the show as a means of giving figurative artists the opportunity to show their work. “Historically, nudes don’t sell that well in the galleries,” Shauck said. “It’s very difficult to find a venue to show nudes, so I wanted to provide that for artists.”
It seems Shauck might have been a bit ahead of her time, said artist Elizabeth Malaska, who is exhibiting in the show for the second time this year. In recent years, the reception to nudes has become more welcoming, she said.
“I see a lot a lot of figurative work happening now,” said Malaska, who first exhibited in Au Naturel in 2009. “I think Kristin’s instincts, especially when she started Au Naturel, were absolutely spot on. With Au Naturel, she created for artists the opportunity they deserve.”