Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 3, No. 5, 2004

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Robert J. Lewis
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by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

* * * * * * * * * *

When they noticed the couple with sketchpads glancing in their direction, the three beautiful, bikinied women flattened their stomachs, stuck their chests out and held their pose. They had been soaking up the rays on the beach in Pinamar -- a seaside resort south of Buenos Aires -- that is until they were no longer able to contain their curiosity. They got up to have a look. Shock. They were unclothed in both sketchpads!

When I ask Juan Manuel Sanchez and his wife Nora Patrich (Argentine painters who live and work in Vancouver) why clothes make infrequent appearances in their painting the usual answer has something to do with painting a body’s essence.

Sarah and the Desert
Nora Patrich
Acrylic on canvas, 18 x 36 in.
© Nora Patrich
Nude II
Juan Manuel Sánchez
Acrylic on canvas, 23½ x 48 in.
© Juan Manuel Sánchez

I face the same question when I take my 6-year-old granddaughter, Rebecca, to the Calabria, a kitschy coffee bar on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive. Above our table is a reproduction of Michelangelo’s David. When Rebecca looks up asks about David’s details, I try to explain that, just as Sánchez paints unclothed women, sculptors also want to show the glory of the unencumbered human body.

Rebecca Stewart, Susan Elliott, pencil on paper, 2004.
(Inspired by Slab a modern dance presentation and the work of Juan Manuel Sánchez)
© Susan Elliott

After three years of collaborating with Juan Manuel Sánchez and Nora Patrich, I have come to marvel at the former's talent at persuading women to unhinder themselves of their clothing in record time. On one occasion, a noted Chilean playwright came into my studio. I checked my watch. Six minutes later Sánchez suggested she remove it all, which she did, without protest, as Patrich and I observed a master at work.

So it came at no surprise when Paula, a young and upcoming Argentine filmmaker, told Sánchez she wanted to pose for him on the condition that he paint her in his own style and that he allow for the filming of the entire process for a possible documentary.

Paula painted by Juan Manuel Sánchez
Photo by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward, 2004.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

I initially had some reservations about the project. There are so many photographs out there of painted nudes or nudes taken with slide projections on them. The Vancouver Sun has even published the photographs of Malcolm Parry, its well-known gossip columnist, featuring young women with body paint. Apparently, the morally self-righteous Sun considers paint to be clothing. So what could I do but follow their precedent and document Sanchez’s and (later) Patrich’s painting? After all,
many have had their bodies painted, but only a few painters have treated the body as an actual canvas. And while these bodies usually sport flowers or strategically painted fake clothing, the artists, Patrich and Sánchez, painted their models as real subjects taken from one of their paintings.

Nora Patrich and Fabiana
Photo by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward, 2004.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
Fabiana painted by Nora Patrich
Photo by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward, 2004.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

When I photographed Paula with Sánchez, I had this eerie feeling that one of Juan’s women had jumped out of a painting.

Marina painted by Juan Manuel Sánchez
Photo by Alex Waterhouse Hayward, 2004.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
Red Torso
Juan Manuel Sánchez
Acrylic on canvas, 37½ x 27½, 1973.
© Juan Manuel Sánchez
La Toilette
Nora Patrich
Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 22 in.
© Nora Patrich

Fabiana painted by Nora Patrich
Photo by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward, 2004.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

'Documentation' has always been accorded significant status among the major categories of photography. Nonetheless, I dislike the word and have been given cause to question the motives of some photographers who pursue documentation. Once when I asked a photographer why he was taking pictures of a street fireplug, he replied: “I am documenting our city’s fire plugs,” which struck me as mundane. But when documenting Sánchez’s and Patrich’s body painting, I took comfort in knowing that my photographs would be the only proof of an ephemeral reality that disappeared that very night under the shower.

Juan Manuel Sánchez with Paula
Photo by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward, 2004.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
Nora Patrich with Fabiana
Photo by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward, 2004.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

All this being said, the strongest justification for my presence is the sheer fun I always have when Nora and Juan are in my studio: we converse in Argentine Spanish and share a mate, the local tea. When Paula showed her short film to Argentine friends Fabiana and Marina, they eagerly joined the project.

Yapa is a Quechua word used by South Americans which means something extra or a bonus. The yapa came in spades when during the painting session I saw the five of them and spied my reflection in the studio mirror. I have always admired Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656-57) which, understandably, the Spanish consider the most important painting in Western art. My 1/15 of a second exposure of Las Meninas Sobre (over) Robson became our little homage to Velázquez.

I now realize that having fun with art is ample justification for doing whatever with Juan Manuel Sánchez and Nora Patrich, and that photo documentation isn’t always mundane.

Las Meninas
Diego Velazquez
Oil on canvas, 1656.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
Las Meninas over Robson Street
Photo by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward, 2004.
© Alex Waterhouse-Hayward


In his youth in the 50s, Vancouver photographer Alex Waterhouse-Hayward used to enjoy attending actos vivos (live acts) in his birthplace, Buenos Aires. These 'live acts' would precede the main feature in prestigious movie houses such as the Gran Rex on Calle Corrientes. He remembers seeing Frank Sinatra before the movieThe Robe, the first ever Cinemascope production. Today, Waterhouse-Hayward divides his time between his commercial and his fine art photography. He is represented by the Simon Patrich Gallery.

Nora Patrich is an accomplished painter, muralist and print maker. In 1995, she was awarded the Commendation from The House of Commons (Ottawa, Canada); in 1996,the Lieutenant Governor's Award (BC, Canada); and in 2001, the Nomination for the Woman of Distinction Award - YMCA (Vancouver, BC, Canada). Her work is widely exhibited and can be found in the permanent collections of the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Museum of Modem Art (Buenos Aires, Argentina) and the Museum of the National Palace of Guatemala.To find out more about the artist or to get in touch with her, please write to the Arts Editor.

Painter, muralist, sculptor and print maker Juan Manuel Sánchez was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1930. Sánchez first exhibited with Ricardo Carpani and Mario Mollari, in 1956. In 1959, they founded the Spartacus Group. Internationally reknowned, Sánchez’s work can be found in the Museum of Modern Art of Argentina, the Wolfgang Gurlitt Museum in Linz, (Austria), UNESCO (Beirut, Lebanon), the Simon Fraser Art Gallery in Vancouver (Canada), the Engraving Museum (Argentina) and the Budapest Museum of fine Arts (Hungary), among others.To find out more about the artist or to get in touch with her, please write to the Arts Editor.

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