Friday night at Inman Gallery, a crowd came to see themselves, and their friends and acquaintances, both in person and on the gallery walls. Artist Heyd Fontenot, who'd turned to portraiture 10 years ago after working as an art director and experimental filmmaker, showed off his latest nude renderings in pencil and colored ink. Fontenot's past portraiture typically featured his own friends and incorporated overtly erotic (though hardly salacious) postures. But this time, in "It's a Nude, Nude, Nude, Nude World", the figures emerge from blank white paper, the eroticism is all but gone, and the subjects this time were volunteers, who didn't have to be cajoled or persuaded. They knew just what they were in for.
Visitors to Inman Gallery's "Do I Know You?" group show last year will recognize Fontenot's work: remarkably precise nude figures, often with slightly large heads and eyes (and slightly small bodies), in depictions both frank and guilelessly charming. You can't say the portraits are exactly "flattering" - the sometimes goofy poses, like on-all-fours or twisted-around-oneself, emphasized the bulges and creases and floppiness (the phrase "basket of fruit" make the rounds) that we prefer to tuck away in our clothes. At the same time, the frolicsome sensibility and the graceful lines did away with splotches and pockmarks, casting Fontenot's subjects in various darling parlor dramas. Even an emotionally weighted work like "Patrick with Worried Expression" resolves itself into tenderness.
It was during last year's group show that Fontenot asked for volunteers for this series, and the resulting show is a kind of community portrait, featuring a cast of some of Houston's foremost gallerists, collectors, artists, curators, and museum directors. Many of the subjects arrived for the opening, and with all things nude, the mood was variously abashed and boastful, folks pointing out themselves or their friends, and then hoping not to be recognized while standing next to their own nude selves. The likenesses were familiar (especially in terms of gesture and expression) but not too exact, so it was possible not to recognize some of the faces.
For this show, with subjects he had only just met, Fontenot had to rely even more on his ability, as one subject described it, to be "laid back and generous." At the same time, since the subjects were willing from the start, the portraits contain what dog trainers call "gameness."