Lafayette artist Nicole Touchet’s nude portraits shine a spotlight on emotional duality
“Any painting is more of experimentation with what you can do next. So it was just me exploring what I thought was beautiful at the time — to create something that I could find beautiful.”
Photo by Romero & Romero
About a year ago during the winter, Nicole Touchet (then-owner of Galerie Touchet on the downtown corner of Vermilion and Jefferson) stopped for some sightseeing in Arizona en route to a friend’s wedding in San Diego. Prior to putting foot-to-gas for this ambitious, monotonous and wind-turbine-filled road trip, Touchet hung a few nude portraits (faceless, abstract nude portraits) for that month’s Art Walk. Though the clothes-free figures in the paintings were visible from the main building lobby, they certainly weren’t prominently displayed.
Touchet got an email from the property owner. The gist? Take down the paintings.
“It’s just a surreal moment where you’re looking at the majesty of the Grand Canyon, and people are telling you you need to cover up your art at your own gallery,” Touchet says through several laughs. “It’s just, ‘What?!?!’ It’s one of those profound, random moments in your life that you remember.
“I was extremely infuriated,” Touchet says later. “I was offended both personally and as an artist. I look at that painting and it’s very soft and easy to look at and very not-in-your-face, so I didn’t understand why they weren’t seeing what I actually created. I got really worked up, and all these ideas (about what to do) started brewing for when I got back. Thankfully, I had another week of vacation, so
I had time to think and re-evaluate the situation before I acted, which was good.”
Though she calmed down, Touchet certainly didn’t get quiet.
“I ended up finding my activist heart in my existing work,” says Touchet, whose activist past also includes being vocal about the animal-food culture in the United States.
Since then Touchet continues to wave the flag against the stigma attached to perceived-risqué forms of art or displays of art in the South. On April 23, 2016, Touchet produced a real-life art installation that meandered throughout Festival International featuring women who had their bodies painted in “defiance against the societal norms of covering your breasts in public.”
In January 2017, Touchet and Brittany Boudreaux of Gallery 333 organized an artistic rally called Femme Puissance, at which activists were encouraged to paint a 10-foot tall set of bra and panties constructed out of blank canvas.
“I’ve always been very stubborn, so backing down wasn’t really an option,” Touchet says, rewinding back to the nude-painting dust-up from a year ago. “If people are going to retaliate, then I’m just going to push back. It’s just in my blood. The fight wasn’t over, so why back down?”
Initially, Touchet’s family covered the paintings while she was out of town, but did show their disapproval by posting a “Censored By Management” sign in the exhibition space window. When Touchet returned, she and a friend cut out overgrown paper-doll clothes for the nude women in the paintings, doing so over a bottle of wine and a lot of laughs.
“I mean, I had toys like that when I was a kid, too — the little fold-over flap,” Touchet says. “It was my adult version of that, so that they’d be made presentable for the public.”
By this time, Touchet’s story gained some traction. The Lafayette alternative newsweekly interviewed the artist and included portions of the back-and-forth email exchange between the artist and property owner, along with the verbatim clauses in the lease agreement. The clauses did not specifically prohibit such displays. In support of Touchet, the local Lafayette art community — particularly the Kelli Kaufman Studio & Gallery, Cajun Spice Gallery, Theatre 810, Gallery 333 and The Vertical Barre — put on a side Nude Art Walk in conjunction with the regular April 2016 Art Walk.
“The community really rallied around me in the right way,” Touchet says. “I just loved that it opened up the dialogue for Lafayette — that this was really an issue and people weren’t aware of it in their own community. It was beautiful. They turned it into an informative, productive type of way to combat something like that.”
Citing the art of Egon Schiele, Willem de Kooning and Gustav Klimt, Touchet says she has no intentions to stop painting nudes, though much of her recent focus has been consumed with organizing exhibits and event planning.
“The most profound subject matter I came across was the female body,” Touchet says. “It’s just such a loaded image. I feel like you can say so much with just the placement of an arm or a leg, the gaze of the woman in the work. It just seems stronger — if I can channel the use of this image I could push the work further. It gives you a more profound voice.”