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Naked homage: Artist to use nude models as art instruments during show

August 16th, 2014 9:40 pm by Tony Casey

Naked homage: Artist to use nude models as art instruments during show

Robin vanArsdol, or R.V., stands next to one of his past pieces when doing an "Homage to Yves Klein." (Contributed)

Robin vanArsdol, or R.V., as he’s known internationally, has always done things a little bit differently.

When he brings his performance art to Nelson’s Fine Art on Sept. 4-5, he’ll be being paying his personal tribute to Yves Klein in using nude models as paint brushes, as Klein did in his short but storied time on Earth.

The homage to Klein is something that vanArsdol said he’s performed upward of 15 times, mostly in Europe, and doesn’t dance around the fact that some of the performance art can be perceived as erotic, because of the use of fully nude female bodies.

“There’s no eroticism in it for me,” vanArsdol said. “But the models say its level of eroticism is the closest thing to sex they’ve ever experienced. Once they have the paint on them, they don’t feel naked.”

What does vanArsdol expect in his performance? Lots of smiles and the excitement of showing viewers something they’ve never seen before. His background might be atypical for someone who found himself in the middle of the American graffiti movement in New York City during the 1980s. Born to farmers of Iowa, vanArsdol then moved to northern Kentucky, where he found himself as a star athlete, earning offers to play several sports in college, but ultimately passing it all up to get his master’s in art at New York University.

Having spend time teaching at NYU as the sculpture chairman, vanArsdol found his way into expressing himself through art during the turbulent 1980s.

“In the 1980s, I got really made at the U.S. and did 5,000 murals across New York City,” vanArsdol said, setting the tone for the graffiti art era.

VanArsdol, who describes himself as an extremely religious man, said he was unhappy with the U.S. proliferation of weapons that could destroy the world three times over and the state of American politics. He found himself representing himself through his art in an anti-war and anti-drug campaign, producing famed pieces including Screaming Man and Tulip. Because Klein lived such a short life that didn’t draw much attention during his 33-year duration, the educator in vanArsdol wouldn’t let him go unrecognized.

Another project vanArsdol prides himself on is a program he started in Florida in the 1970s, where juvenile delinquents could avoid jail time if they worked on a sculpture or other piece of art, something that the state still uses to this day. Working with children and teaching others about art is what vanArsdol has found most important, something he said he feels called to do.

This passion for art history in vanArsdol has doing his Homage to Yves Klein performances in different parts of the world. He said he’d speak with a lot of fellow art educators who’d never heard of Klein, and this is something he couldn’t allow.

Klein was a French artist who lived from 1928-1962 and took root in the post-war European art movement, inventing and patenting his own ultramarine paint, International Klein Blue, which has been the color vanArsdol has used in past nude model performances.

Dick Nelson, owner of the venue where vanArsdol will perform, said he hopes the performance to be more about the art than it is about sex.

“Naked is not dirty,” Nelson said. “People need to grasp that the human body is beautiful — all of them.”

That being said, Nelson said he’s had models — not in the nude — perform in the past, which drew the attention of police. He thinks people in attendance will have a unique experience.

Nelson initially heard about vanArsdol through an friend who suggested his performances. VanArsdol, though not exactly a local, being from the northern part of neighboring Kentucky, said he’s “a country boy,” and actually owns property with his brother on Roan Mountain and is familiar with the area, which lines him up well for his two performances.

Ren Allen, Nelson said, a local body paint artist in her own right, will serve as the nude model paint brush for vanArsdol’s performance. Nelson said she’s somewhat nervous, having been the person applying the paint rather than having it applied, but was impressed with vanArsdol’s caliber.

The Sept. 4 performance takes place from 7-9 p.m. and the Sept. 5 performance from 9-11 p.m. Ticket sales are limited to 100 each and will cost $25 each until Sept. 1. After that, the tickets will go up to $30.

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