Kauper found his models through recommendations and via the website modelmayhem.com. He selected young, attractive women who happened to span divergent cultural backgrounds.The three depicted figures on view at Almine Rech are of three different races, though Kauper says this was purely incidental. “I decided to stay with young women because I didn’t want the work iconographically to propose an alternative to the traditional female nude,” he says. “I didn’t want an immediate clue that these were somehow operating outside the traditional paradigm.” In other words, painting older women would make a political statement out of line with his project. Kauper simply wanted to challenge the idea that all male artist’s depictions of young, attractive nude women need be objectifying. A dicey proposition, of course: fail, and he’d add to the already staggering body of work that divests women of agency and/or portrays them as mere reproductive units. Succeed, and the art world—primed more for protest than for praise, at the moment—might just shrug.
“I wanted the viewer to be in a much more unclear, ambiguous position in relationship to the figure,” Kauper says. At first, he tried painting a woman with her hands on her hips. This decision, he feared, offered too much of a “readable narrative.” That stance, after all, often clearly signifies empowerment and assertion. In his finished paintings, the figures stand with their hands hanging at their sides. “I’ve always tried to make paintings—whether they be of men or women—where the figure in the painting is actually the one who is looking at the viewer, or at least on equal footing with the viewer themselves,” Kauper says, implying that for all his subjects, power derives from more than a simple hand position, clothing, or lack thereof.