Removal of abstract nude painting draws mixed reactions

An abstract nude painted by a Powell High School student sent some shockwaves through the community recently

For some PHS students, the art piece that hung on display in the green pod much of the first two weeks of December seemingly was cathartic. To the artist, junior Randallin “Red” Flores, it embodied the spite and angst she felt when her last pen and ink anonymously was covered up with a sticky note stating, “Modest is the hottest.”

“I decided, screw modesty — I’m going to go a bit more extreme with this one,” Flores said.

Hailey Carner
Powell High School junior Randallin Flores removes her abstract nude painting on Dec. 12.

She explained in an interview with The Prowl that art is her form of expression and how she shows what she was passionate about. Her fascination with the human body and its beauty inspired her latest piece: a  nude abstract. In this specific genre of art, the artist does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of a visual reality, but instead uses shapes, colors, forms and gestural marks to achieve its effect, according to greatbigcanvas.com.

“The piece is so abstract; even I wouldn’t paint something that explicit,” Flores said. “I’m too shy for that.”

But others did not interpret the piece as “abstract.” The artwork was criticized by some as “inappropriate,” “explicit,” “pornographic” and even reason enough for the PHS administration to be contacted by a neighboring district administrator, which resulted in the piece ultimately being taken down by Flores herself on Dec. 12.

PHS Principal Mr. Jim Kuhn said the decision was made to protect the students, not to censor them.

“We live in a rather conservative community, and religion is very strong in our community,” Mr. Kuhn said. “And there are a large number of people in town that worry about their sons and daughters being exposed to things at various ages, because they get bombarded by enough things outside of school.”

“I support modesty. I believe it is important to cover your body in a way that is respectful to God and others.”

— PHS sophomore Whitney Hull

He referred to the situation as one where he had to “pick his battles.”

“I didn’t want to see our art department get a black eye in people’s eyes because we’ve got such a great rapport with the community and we get so much help from the community on project,” Mr. Kuhn said. “It was just one of those things were if it was making someone uncomfortable, maybe we should take a look at it and take it down if it was.”

Art teacher Mr. Jim Gilman chose not to comment on the situation, but Mr. Kuhn thought the piece, although beautiful, was inappropriate and did not need to be on display in the school, eventually informing Mr. Gilman of the decision.

“While I took a look at it, although it wasn’t showing anything totally inappropriate, it was just the fact it was making some people uncomfortable, and I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable when they are in our building,” Mr. Kuhn said. “I want this to be a great place for everybody to feel free to come to and participate in.”

The removal of the abstract nude resulted in reactions ranging from outrage to relief.

PHS sophomore Whitney Hull found the abstract admirable but inappropriate.

“The artwork itself was really pretty,” she said. “I think [Red] has really amazing skills, but it is unfortunate she used them in a way that was obscene.”

When Hull first saw the piece, she said she noticed the figure was nude and expressed her concern for her fellow classmates.

“I feel as if it was inappropriate, especially for the setting,” Hull said, “because high school students shouldn’t be exposed to those things.”

The artwork as a whole was beautiful. The colors were vibrant and complemented each other well. To me, that is what made it stand out. Not the figure being nude.”

— PHS sophomore Megan Cotter

When asked to describe the art, Hull referred to the piece as “inappropriate,” “obscene” and “revealing,” adding it personally offended her.

“I support modesty,” Hull said. “I believe it is important to cover your body in a way that is respectful to God and others.”

Hull was relieved by the decision administration made to remove the artwork. She felt it would no longer distract the students from their learning.

Conversely, art student Megan Cotter thought the decision to remove Flores’ work was absurd.

“I’ve been watching her throughout her entire process,” Cotter said. “She had worked diligently on her piece for over two weeks before being displayed; for it to be  taken down for being ‘obscene’ is deeply disappointing.”

Cotter said she found the abstract nude was nothing more than the artist using her freedom of expression.

“Her art isn’t intended to be perverted, it’s simply just art. It is how you express yourself,” Cotter said. “The artwork as a whole was beautiful. The colors were vibrant and complemented each other well. To me, that is what made it stand out. Not the figure being nude.”

When asked her stance about the artwork being removed, Cotter had one word: “Triggered.”

Cotter further explained that if the administration’s goal was to protect students and the public from scrutiny, they had underestimated the students of Powell High School.

“At the end of the day, the decision to remove Red’s artwork was simply unfair,” she said. “I hope Red and others will continue to fight for our student’s freedom of expression, whether that be in art or in any other form.”

Although disappointed in administration’s decision, Flores wanted one lesson to be taken away from this whole experience:

“People are going to try and stop you no matter what. People are going to judge you. People are going to try and stop you and censor you. I know a lot of kids are very open-minded and out there and want to be out there with their clothing, their choice of words, their choice of art style but are forced to censor themselves and be ashamed. My advice is to simply keep going.”