Breast friend! Artist paints women like they really are — imperfect and beautiful

Breast friend! Artist paints women like they really are — imperfect and beautiful
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Georgia O’Keeffe had flowers. Clarity Haynes has breasts.

Over the past 12 years, the Sunset Park-based artist has painted hundreds of breast portraits — classical representations of her realistically imperfect female subjects, done in miniature pieces, life-sized pastels and, more recently, giant oil paintings.

Tabla Rasa Gallery in Sunset Park will show off more than three dozen Haynes pieces starting on Feb. 12.

“She’s a prolific artist, with remarkable skill and an exceptional talent for rendering human flesh and form,” said gallery owner Audrey Anastasi. “This series epitomizes both the tenderness and power of her vision.”

The name of the show — “Radical Acceptance” — was inspired by something said by one of Haynes’s models.

“It can refer to people looking at the art — it’s radical to accept something you’re not used to seeing,” said Haynes, referring to the non-airbrushed, typically older representations of the female body. “But it’s really about the models. It’s radical to realize you can change your feelings about your body and become powerful in your body.”

Haynes would know. The project started after she painted her own portrait when she was in her mid-20s in an attempt comes to terms with her own thoughts about her body. Since then, she’s painted more than 500 of these breast portraits, finding models at women’s festivals, by word-of mouth, and even through Craigslist.

Lately, Haynes has taken to enlarging her portraits to larger-than-life proportions, something she took inspiration from Georgia O’Keeffe, who once said she painted flowers big because, since they’re small, no one has time to look at them.

“By making them larger, I hope that people really see the beauty that I see,” said Haynes.

For Haynes, that means lovingly painting blemishes most women would be ashamed of — from stretch marks and veins to such trauma as mastectomies. Through the act of painting, she hopes her models — and viewers — will come to accept them as beautiful, too.

“People may have an initial reaction of, ‘Oh no, that’s horrible, I don’t want to see that,’ ” said Haynes. “But what I’m hoping is as they look, gradually, something else will come in, some sense of peace and power.”

Photo by Stefano Giovannini

“Radical Acceptance” at Tabla Rasa Gallery [224 48th St. between Second and Third avenues in Sunset Park, (718) 833-9100], Feb. 12-March 5, with a panel discussion on opening day. Open Thursday-Saturday from noon-5 pm. Free. For info, visit www.tablarasagallery.com.