LOCK HAVEN - When I heard that artist Casey Lard has an exhibition of mostly nude self-portraits opening at the Sloan Fine Arts Gallery at Lock Haven University Jan. 23, the first thing I thought was, "What does her mother think?"
"I think it makes my mother uncomfortable," she said. "But really, I'm sure it makes all of us uncomfortable. Having said that, I come from a family of artists. It is not uncommon for my parents and I to be in the same room when we are teaching and working from a nude model. They are the people that taught me to draw and they have been the most supportive and also the biggest critics of my work."
She has two brothers as well who also have been "very cool and mature about it," she said.
A self-portrait in oil by Casey Lard, whose artwork will be on display in the Sloan Fine Arts Gallery at Lock Haven University from Jan. 23 until Feb. 17.
And as far as the general public is concerned, she hasn't had too many issues.
"Only twice has someone said something that made me uncomfortable and I simply ended the conversation and walked away," she said. "At the same time, I suppose having that happen proves my point about being reduced to an object, so I guess it is just part of it. I don't feel offended or traumatized; I think it is just par for the course. You can't expect to do paintings like this and have only kind, flowery feedback."
Lard emphasizes the objectification of her body by painting herself matter-of-factly with other objects.
"When I planned my paintings, I looked for a pose, for the woman to be posed as an object, very still, and at the same time, posed with an object, so that if a man were to look at the picture there would be some interruption," she said. "That she would be relating to this tassel or hat or sofa and that would interrupt his thoughts or her relating to him or with him."
Lard refers to her painted self as "the woman" to create a bit of a disconnect between herself and her artistic exposure.
"I don't see these as being me," she said. "That is way too personal for me. I didn't want to do paintings about myself, though there are necessarily some very personal and individual aspects to these paintings. I was trying to do some specific paintings but I wanted them to be about women, sexuality and femininity."
She said that her real interest is in the beauty of the female form and that if she could afford a model, she wouldn't be painting herself at all.
"I seem to be the only model that I can afford ... and also the only model that is always available when I want to paint," she said jokingly, adding that her body isn't even her ideal subject. "I think I would much prefer to paint myself if I could gain about 50 pounds."
The artist, however, doesn't deny that there is something sexual about the works.
"It is about lust," she said. "It is about comparing male lust to female lust or lack thereof. It is about the sexuality of the female form and perhaps my dissatisfaction in being reduced to a sexual object."
She also said that her painterly intent was to render her body as nonsexual as possible.
"The facial expressions are not inviting, the poses are fairly mundane and the ornate objects are distracting," she said. "I guess my plan is that the women will get them (the tassels and the patterns) whereas men will not. That could be my own delusion that they will be perceived that way, but that was my plan. I really think the fact that there is not that much sexy about them has to make you think."
Even though the artist paints self-portraits, she does not work from photographs.
"I can't get the same enjoyment out of painting from photographs," she said. "This limits what I can paint dramatically I see myself as still learning how to paint and I don't think photography is helpful for that. It is very painful to sit for these; I often get cramps and can only work for a few hours for each one."
Despite the uncomfortable elements of her work - both as she paints and after, when the public gets a full view - Lard hopes that people find her paintings humorous.
"I don't really want to set out to make funny paintings, but I think there is definitely room for humor in the pieces," she said. "I sneak it in and most of the time people don't get it and what I say rarely comes across as funny - more often it gets me in trouble With this set of work, the set that will be at Lock Haven, I would rather people say to themselves 'That is so ridiculous that she painted herself nude with these silly objects, I was entertained.' I will appreciate that. Having said that, I think this is the most serious and thoughtful body of work I have done."
Lard has a master of fine arts degree in painting and drawing from Tulane University in New Orleans and a bachelor of fine arts degree from Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, La., the state where she lived until the age of 7.
"I was born in Texas and moved to Louisiana when I was only a few months old," she said. "I lived there until I was 7 and then moved to central PA until I was 18. When I went to college I went back to the small town I had lived in for undergrad and then moved to New Orleans for grad school. When I finished I moved back up here."
Lard now lives in central Pennsylvania, in what she calls "a lovely little house on the creek."
"I use the basement as my studio and I find it to be the most peaceful place I have ever lived," she said. "I am completely spoiled by the peacefulness that the water gives your soul and I'm not sure I could ever live away from the water again."
The opening reception for Lard's show will be held at 8 p.m. Feb. 1 at the Sloan Fine Arts Gallery at Lock Haven University.
For more information about the artist, visit caseylard.com.