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[NSFW] Disney Meets Picasso in Twisted, Comic-Inspired Nudes

Koak draws cartoonishly cubist women who can’t quite escape their bodies.

Voluptuous bodies explore the limits of physicality in the twisted works of Bay Area painter Koak. Nude and often posed in an extreme physical or emotional state, her subjects seem trapped inside bodies that don't quite do what they want. The effect is whimsical and cartoonish as well as tense and troubling—a mix of emotions that reflect what it actually feels like to be a soul in a body.

"Most often it's that sort of conflict that I'm after," Koak says. "To show figures that are internally at odds with themselves. I've had very few moments in my life in which I felt 100% of any emotion or feeling. So when I'm drawing these women, one of the most important feelings I'm trying to convey is tension."

'Blonde,' 2016. Pigment, graphite, chalk, and casein on rag paper mounted to panel

Koak started drawing as a child. Home sick in bed, she would watch cartoons and read comic books, and draw versions of her favorite characters. Drawing took on a bigger role in her teenage years, as she struggled with the aftereffects of childhood sexual abuse and heroin in her social circles. "Art became a lifeline for me. It allowed me to reach out and communicate with others who had similar experience."

Koak eventually landed at California College of the Arts (CCA), earning her BFA and MFA in comics. Comic art still has a big influence on her work, as "a basis for my structure, form, and interest in depicting the body." But her technique isn't exactly the same as drawing.

"I generally work with pastels that are rehydrated with casein and brushed or rubbed onto rag paper that I stretch over wood panels," she says. "In a sense, the paper reads as canvas and the pastel as paint, so that the works appear to be paintings, and in some ways they are, but at the same time they aren't." This is a conscious choice: using materials and processes that are more difficult to easily define, so viewers slow down and take a second look.

Sisters, 2016. 20" x 16" Graphite and casein on rag paper.

Jenny Goat, 2017. 60" x 48" Pigment, pastel, chalk, and casein on rag paper mounted to panel.

They may be nude, at times sensual, and even intimate, but it seems inaccurate to label these women "erotic." In fact, their nudity seems more related to honesty. We all have bodies. Clothes only hide them, but the truth is still there—just like the emotions Koak's subjects are wrestling with.

"It's important for me to draw women where their sexuality isn't hidden or repressed," she says. "To draw them not as sexual objects, but as humans with sexual agency. I'm not even sure that I would categorize my work under body-positivity. There is a level of unease to many of the figures that speaks to bodily discomfort."

In her newest work, Koak is exploring bathing—a common setting for paintings, but one that changes dramatically over the years, directly connected to social influences on body consciousness. "I'm fascinated by themes of transformation and self-reflection, drowning, and rebirth, all of which play large roles in the mythological constructs around bathing."

Three Bathers, 2017. 14" x 11" Graphite and casein on rag paper.

Leda (Tale As Old As Time), 2016. 10" x 8" Graphite and casein on rag paper

Ramona's Size, 2016. 30" x 24" Pigment, pastel, chalk, and casein on rag paper mounted to panel

Brick Curtain, 2016. 14" x 11" Pigment, pastel, graphite, and casein on rag paper mounted to panel

Elena, 2017. 21" x 17" Graphite, charcoal, chalk, and casein on rag paper in artists made acrylic frame (for upcoming show The Set)

Hello Darkness, 2017. 14" x 11" Graphite and casein on rag paper (for upcoming show Bathers)

Koak's upcoming show, Bathers, will open May 6 at AlterSpace. In April, she will show works at Holiday Forever in Jackson Hole, and at BBQ LA in Los Angeles.

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