Exploring art’s relationship with the female body, through neon

Originally featured here on tmrw Magazine. 

Nudes, nudity, nakedness and the human body.

A female nipple is often considered a taboo, but how can that be so when it is forms an integral part of some of the most beautiful artwork in history? The female body is hugely inspirational; artists have borrowed from the human body since the beginning of time – and still do today.

Romily Alice Walden turns nudes into neon pieces of art. “The nude has been a staple of fine art all the way back to Ancient Greece,” she explains. “We are tied to our bodies for life and so I think artists will always want to explore that very simple, very primal aspect of our humanity.” By following that natural instinct through her work, Romily has produced some truly exquisite pieces of art, only far more modern than the paintings of Aphrodite.

All the portraits in Romily’s work are inspired by pictures that real women have donated to her. By using ‘real’ women, Romily hopes to create a series of work that diversifies the normative view of the female-identified body. “I think we need to make space for a more expansive cultural understanding of beauty. The beauty ideal that women are presented with in the West has gotten so out of hand that often it doesn’t even depict a body shape that’s human; we are taking human bodies, manipulating them with digital tools and then presenting them as natural. I find that both wildly unhealthy and completely fascinating in terms of what it means to have a body in the Post-Internet world.”

When working on her series Always Turned On, Romily said she was thinking about female sexual agency and the limits that are placed upon it in the digital culture in which we live. It was about taking the ideal of the sexualised women and opening the discourse on female sexual pleasure – and doing so in what she refers to as a “non-idealised way”.

“There’s a legacy of female identifying artists using their bodies and their gender identities to explore their experiences,” she says. “From Ana Mendieta to Louise Bourgeois to Lorna Simpson, artists have been drawn to sex, the body and gendered experiences. I think part of that desire comes from the desire to be seen in an art world that has historically [and continues to be] dominated by men.”

And as for the neon? Well, for Romily, it was about the alluring nature of its alchemical quality.  “The neon world is also such a closed world – we are used to seeing neon but it’s such a specialist trade that you don’t know anything about how – or where – it’s made, unless you choose to go down that route and immerse yourself in that world. Once I realised that I wanted to work with neon I felt compelled to educate myself and learn how to make it. I’ve always been geeky about materials and techniques so the fastidiousness of the craft really suits me.”

Romily is currently working on projects for exhibitions in the coming year and splits her time between London, where she was born, and Berlin. Having graduated from Leeds College of Art in July, she tells me contemporary art practice is the perfect mix of her two loves – creativity and reading (“I love the symbiosis between the two”). Fresh is exactly what Romily’s artwork is, and you will be able to see a showcase of her neon installation, Utopias, at the upcoming Recent Graduates’ Exhibition as part of the Affordable Art Fair at Battersea from the 19th – 22nd October. So, head down Battersea Way to nab yourself some of Romily’s neon nudes (but not if I buy them all first).

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