Is Beauty Only Skin Deep?

Nudity is no stranger to art (see my recent article), particularly not to the works of Jonathan Yeo. The British artist is well known for his portrait of George Bush which is composed of torn images from pornographic magazines. Although this innovative take on portraiture was sensational at the time, his latest exhibition “(I’ve Got You) Under My Skin” at CircleCulture Gallery offers no similarly-exciting new ground. Nudity is still a focus for Yeo, but he also introduces the themes of celebrity and cosmetic surgery –two themes which today are virtually synonymous and are also overdone. For me, Yeo’s works were only skin deep.

Jonathan Yeo Breasts  An example of Jonathan Yeo’s painting of cosmetic surgery: socially acceptable? Photo: Chris Phillips

The first room features paintings of different women who are undergoing cosmetic surgery, focusing on different body parts and the obtrusive red and black lines marked by the surgeon for where the alterations are to be made. I find them cold. The two works focusing solely on a women’s breasts being manipulated are a reflection of how women in particular can be viewed by society – as pieces of meat available to tuck and trim in accordance to norms.  

Sienna Miller: Nude and Pregnant

Hung in the same room but on a different wall is is the infamous nude painting of pregnant Sienna Miller. Yeo said about this work: “I wanted an image that epitomized the human body in its most naturally beautiful state to make the sharpest possible contrast with my other paintings in this exhibition.” 

The painting of Miller is indeed different. It shows nearly all of her body, giving her a real identity. Free from any physical surgeon markings, she is meant to represent contemporary society’s “ideal beauty.” Many argue that the pregnancy aspect of the nude makes it “acceptable” in modern society, distancing it from trashy glamor modelling. The fact that she is pregnant and naked, though, is not particularly shocking; such tactics have been done many times before (see Annie Leibowitz a la Demi Moore). 


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