The last of the paintings in this selection of Caroline Westerhout’s work, Totally Naked, includes the words ‘This is not about sex! I repeat not!’ This is the main point of the aspect of her work which takes the naked female body as its starting point. She is emphasising that the naked body is so much more than a sexy eroticism; hers is a way of seeing and relating to nakedness as a far deeper, more nuanced and complex, and certainly more satisfying, experience.
Made mostly between 2000 and 2016, the art of nakedness is what Westerhout’s work is mostly known for, and in the broadest sense of the word, both literally and figuratively. She has the ability to convey the tenderest of intimacies and the harshest of social commentaries in her brushwork, giving the viewer every opportunity to relate to the painting from their own experience and response. As she explains, she steers clear of taking her art too far in the direction of photorealism, because then the subtlety and element of surprise is lost. Her technique encourages us to look for the stories that lie within; feelings and emotion are as important to her as the subject. Her paintings often render some aspects of the body faithfully, then distort others and offer unexpected textures and contexts. Though this may have disconcerting results, each of her works conveys a vulnerable and honest quality.
From time to time Westerhout explored a specific aspect of the art of nakedness – building on Gustav Klimt’s bejewelled paintings, exploring breasts in close-up intimacy, or imagining the body freed in an underwater setting.