Denudation and Redemption in the Digital Art of Keith Kovach

Written by: Marie R. Pagano

The distinguished art historian Kenneth Clark once made a fine distinction between the nude and the naked. "The word nude.'" Clark pointed out, "carries, in educated usage no uncomfortable undertone." However, "to be naked is to be deprived of our clothes, and the word implies some of the embarrassment most of us feel in that condition."

Keith Kovach goes far beyond naked in his digital prints, on view in "Pixel Perfect-The Digital Fine Art Exhibition," at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, in Chelsea, from October 26 through November 15. (Reception Thursday, November 1, from 6 to 8 PM.) Kovach literally strips the figure of its skin, laying bare the network of arteries and tendons within with the merciless X-ray vision seen in his startling print "Surprised." Unlike the visionary painter Alex Gray, Kovach does not put a cosmic spin on his unveilings of the inner body; nor does he romanticize them symbolically in the manner of Pavel Tchelitchew's "Hide and Seek." Rather, the aptly named "Surprised" shows us a naked woman crouched on all fours, stripped even of her hair, her flesh as translucent as plexiglass (to say "crystal" would be to falsely euphemize the starkness of Kovach's vision). One can compare the squeamish effect this image produces in the viewer to the brave photographic self-portraits that the conceptual artist Hannah Wilke made during her final illness, showing a once beautiful woman transformed beyond recognition, yet still possessed of an indomitable human dignity. Kovach, however, strips his figure even of individual identity, freezing it in motion like a startled deer in a setting as sterile as a hospital operating room. The surreal quality is enhanced by an object seen at some distance behind the woman, which appears to be two ragged garments propped on some skeletal armature signifying, perhaps, that she has only recently been denuded and cast adrift in this merciless space. "Surprised" is a painful, yet powerful and necessary image to contemplate, for it faces us with our universal fate, and to confront it unflinchingly is to come to terms with the inevitability of one's own mortality.

Other digital prints by Kovach subject the human visage and body to a variety of metamorphoses: In "Bust," the intricate, swirling ribbon-like shapes, loosely enveloping a face, suggest a mummy with its wrappings unraveling. Yet the pair of eyes revealed in the process are startlingly alive and blaze with the suffering and self-knowledge that separates us from more innocent creatures. In another print, these same expressive eyes, peering out from a face covered with what appear to be tiny glass squares that cling to it like scales, evoke the term "windows of the soul." Then there is "Protection," in which a full-length figure crouches under a transparent, tent-like structure. In each of these works, Keith Kovach appears to be telling us that we finally retain our humanity no matter what trials life may subject us to, and the evidence of this redeeming vision is made manifest in his print "Greenyoga," in which a nude body merges in perfect harmony with an exotic plant.

Image Credits:RESPITE FROM OBLIVION - Digital Print 28"x20"x1"

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