Tracy Nakayama

Bodybuilder & Sportsman

Vintage porn might be the last place one would expect to encounter Arcadia, but Tracy Nakayama unequivocally positions it there. Her seemingly endless series of sepia ink drawings on paper (twenty-three were shown here) are taken from the erotica of what seemed a simpler and more innocent moment of staged intimacy and are so sympathetic to their source that they approach homage. Nakayama focuses primarily on images from sex magazines whose purpose was often speciously presented as sociological, and whose softcore aesthetic is adaptable to her feminist approach (male models, for example, are usually presented with flaccid penises, rendering them less threatening). She isolates and subtly alters those sources to evoke a wistful sense of lost innocence.

Nakayama’s chosen period might have been the last time when porn was even tangentially tied to the concepts of free love and sexual experimentation by occasional or novice performers, more earnest and tender than slick and professional. No implants or celebrities here, just a lot of long hair, beads, sideburns, summer-of-love lissomeness, and simulated sex, as dictated by the laws of the time. Nakayama alters her sources, changing facial features, concentrating on certain moments, removing backgrounds, decentering the images, and employing her palette of dull red to suggest the patina of history. It’s a bit like looking at browned-out old Polaroids, but with each shade of sienna lovingly refashioned in ink. Their mood is rather like that of a romance novel cover taken to the max, the ever-present promise of heterosexual intimacy—everyone in Nakayama’s work is white and straight—as a zone of earthy joy.

As well as being an obvious double entendre, the title Pink Comforter, 2005, also refers to a rare flash of bright color. A young couple embrace loosely, the look on their faces surprisingly poignant and vulnerable, as if the sequence of events that has brought them to this place is part of a journey of sexual awareness possessed of real value. They look away from one another, but Nakayama—in the way she depicts the man’s hand tenderly playing over his lover’s forearm and in the psychological exposure she imbues in the quality of the woman’s downward gaze—delivers the ultimate fantasy of porn: that these people may really care for one another, that our voyeurism is incidental to the witnessing of intimacy. God Only Knows, 2005 (its title, like many of Nakayama’s, is taken from popular music of the time), is equally earnest and tender. Even if simulated, the palpable affection between the couple that Nakayama evokes—their shared pursuit of pleasure here acted out in nature—is the artist’s real target. Nakayama transcends the tawdry and the faked to bring us once again face to face with the liberating energy of sex.

James Yood