Artist interview with Jarid Blue, Savannah Spirit & Deborah Oster Pannell
“Body Lines” Curator Deborah Oster Pannell in Conversation with
Photographers Jarid Blue and Savannah Spirit
My name is Deborah Oster Pannell. I was born and raised in Long Island, but I've been living in New York City for decades. I've been curating art and spoken word events and writing about art and artists for about the last six years. I got my start curating art by working on the production side of a large international art fair based in Harlem back in 2015, called the Flux Art Fair. I met a ton of talented artists and curators there and started on this latest phase of my creative journey.
I'm inspired by work that crosses all sorts of boundaries and makes connections between people and modes of expression in unexpected ways. I think the strongest art is created when an artist attempts to make contact with viewers by channeling a very personal story or feeling through a chosen medium. When this happens, there's a kind of alchemy that takes place, and you can actually sense the life and the energetic connection coming through the work. To me, it feels like magic.
I currently manage an art gallery in Chelsea, C24 Gallery, so I'm surrounded by art all the time, and much of my job consists of getting to know the artists and the stories behind their work so I can share that with collectors and gallery visitors. I also play the flute and write, and perform from time to time. The arts are an integral part of everything I do.
The work I chose to show by Jarid Blue and Savannah Spirit in “Body Lines” is special to me, because it's partly sexy and erotic, but also really sweet and meaningful. Many of us have complicated relationships with our bodies, connected to early traumas or mixed messages. I love the work that Jarid and Savannah do, because they each create photographs of human bodies that present the nude form in really positive terms. Jarid gives his subjects permission to celebrate their bodies in ways that are most comfortable and fun for them, and Savannah takes photos of her own naked self in a way that allows her to feel empowered and in control. Together, I find their work super freeing and healing!
Here's a little more about each of the artists:
Savannah Spirit hails from Los Angeles and is currently based in Brooklyn, NY. Practically a born photographer, she explains, “At seven years old I started taking pictures—made my first family portrait and was known as the family photographer from then on. The rest is herstory.”
“I Am My Own Muse,” the series we are featuring in this exhibition, was launched by Spirit back in 2016. She started it as a way to evade censors on Instagram and Facebook, thinking the black stripes would mimic black bars, but that didn’t work. It quickly morphed into a series about body acceptance and self love. A collection of nude self-portraits, the series stands as an elegant testimony to the power of female self-expression, removed from the complex layers of the often oppressive male gaze.
In 2020, Savannah was part of a founding group of artist-activists, art collectors and human rights organizations convened by the National Coalition Against Censorship to launch “Don’t Delete Art.” In response to having her nude self-portraiture flagged and banned on social media, she helped create this campaign that calls on social media platforms to follow a set of principles that would allow art to circulate freely online. “Don’t Delete Art” also includes an online gallery of banned work by a number of artists and photographers, along with a resource guide to help photographers and creators of photo realistic art safely post their work online without having it taken down.
Spirit’s favorite photographer is Richard Avedon, whose influence can certainly be felt in some of the gorgeous lines and languid poses found in her own work. Her favorite of her own photos is “Film Strip,” as it was the very first shot from the series she felt was successful. As sales of her work have taken root, she has also enjoyed observing her body change as she’s gotten older, although at times it can be difficult. “Even though I might have a fleeting experience of feeling sexy at the moment the shutter clicks, the process itself is not at all sexy to me. It’s way more technical and can even be frustrating.”
Savannah Spirit, Film Strip, 2016
Archival Pigment Print signed
Edition 1/5 Exhibition Prints, 8”x10”
Spirit’s method of taking her self-portraits goes like this… “As ambient light pours through venetian blinds, I set up my tripod and use my iPhone connected to the camera app, which I use as the shutter release. I then place my body in various positions looking for the right pose and shoot at two second intervals.”
Before and after the shot, she is not the subject, but the creator. Not imposing a gaze of sexiness on the work, she’s thinking about angles, lighting and composition. She has only a split second during the shot to make that critical connection between being creator & subject, before she puts on her editor hat. The entire process is akin to directing herself in a number of roles.
Paired with Spirit’s photos is the work of photographer Jarid Blue, who has been evolving his “Light Baths” project for the last eight years, creating safe spaces for people to step into and experience their own nudity. Heavily influenced by the bold, graphic paintings of Bridget Reilly, he has developed a signature style of projecting stripes and colorful patterns onto the bodies of his subjects, amassing a collection of pop art styled nude portraits that are at once personal and cleverly abstracted.
With roots as both a photographer and a painter, and having logged some time at a nudist colony, Blue became fascinated with the human form and launched a series of paintings on wood of nude bodies floating in space. Eventually, he discovered he had more comfort behind the camera, and his current series began.
Working with a wide range of people and body types, Blue’s portraits can range from sexy to silly, to anything in between. Technically, the bodies serve as canvases for projected patterns, but the heart of the process lies in the interactive, collaborative process between photographer and subject. Say’s Blue, “When someone is attuned to the body and has experience as an art model, that’s one thing, but working with someone inexperienced can be really marvelous, because it’s such an unknown. Sometimes someone will go through an emotional experience… I’m not a therapist, just someone trying to be a nice, calm human for other people… If this gives a bridge to experience that… it can be a cool thing…”
Jarid Blue, Light Bath 5, 2020
Archival Inkjet Print signed
Edition 1 of 5, 8”x10”, $300
Going forward, Blue is interested in exploring experiences that encourage people to become even more open, with live performers on stage in front of viewing audiences. Between his personal, commissioned portraits and his ongoing collaborations with music and performing artists, his creative process continues to evolve.
I appreciate the way both Jarid and Savannah have opened the door to disconnecting the automatic sexualization of the human body, leaving space for sexiness to emerge organically, as it will. Such freedom! The restorative and healing power embedded in each of their creative practices makes the enjoyment of their delicious aesthetics even more juicy and exciting.
It’s been a pleasure and an honor to bring this collective, visual embodiment of the erotic to SHAG, a beloved supporter of healthy, fun and fabulous sex, where I’m proud to say I used to work! “Body Lines” will be on view through January 13th, 2024.