The Expressive Potential of Body Language

Artsy Editorial
Jan 17, 2014 3:21PM

The most famous hands in art might be those in Michelangelo’s iconic fresco painting of God creating Adam; their elegantly rendered fingers extended toward each other on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Representations of the human body and all its individual parts make up some of the very oldest artworks, going all the way back to prehistoric cave paintings. The human form as a subject has fascinated modern and contemporary artists, too, from Egon Schiele and Lucien Freud to Jenny Saville, while performance artists like Ana Mendieta and Marina Abramovic have used the powerful expressive potential of their own bodies to explore issues of gender, race, and human relationships.

At Richard J. Demato Fine Arts, several artists hone in on elements of the human body, exploiting gesture, movement, and posture as forms of communication. In Wang Xiaobo’s series of paintings, “World of Duos”, the artist depicts the torsos of nude or seminude bodies, seated and facing the viewer directly. Xiaobo explores interpersonal relationships by framing pairs of anonymous individuals—who appear to be couples or partners—in balanced compositions. In World of Duos, no. 2, a man and woman, both nude on top except for leather jackets, seem to be exact counterparts of each other; the man holds one hand over his heart, while his partner raises an arm so that together, their limbs form a fluid line. Similarly in World of Duos, no. 3, two muscular men hold hands in a display of unity; nude from the waist up, they appear at once intimate, vulnerable, poised, and secure.

Steve Kenny similarly crops his subject in The Crux II so that only a torso is visible. In a gesture of supplication, this pale, gaunt male figure swathed in a white robe holds his arms out, forming a perch for eight bright red tropical birds. Donato Giancola zooms in on the human form further in his closely cropped paintings of hands; in Burdens #3, for example, a meticulously rendered hand appears to support a metal beam, the strain of its weight visible in the subject’s bent wrist and flexed tendons. These paintings showcase the human body as an endlessly fascinating subject, able to express nuanced psychological states and relationships.  

Explore more artists at Richard J. Demato Fine Arts Gallery.

Artsy Editorial