The Naked Truth


As an artist, Larry Kirkwood is pained to admit it, but his art has become secondary. It is simply a means to an end.

Kirkwood creates plaster casts of average people’s bodies to make the point that “the human form as subject matter has been so twisted by its commercial use that many people no longer can view it objectively or enjoy its formal aspects,” he says.

In seven years, Kirkwood has done 340 casts of all kinds of body types, including pregnant women, women who have had mastectomies, women with eating disorders, and women who have had plastic surgery, as well as of many men. “As a straight male, I would have never believed that I would have had my hands on a hundred guys’ penises,” Kirkwood says, “but to be able to do that I have to be able to look at (men’s penises) in a different way. So this has been a tremendous learning experience for me.”

And he wants his work to be a learning experience for others too. Using some of his pieces, Kirkwood gives talks designed to challenge audience members’ views of the human body. For instance, “mastectomy pieces are so important,” Kirkwood explains, “because you’ve got this disease that you’re fighting that’s trying to kill you, but you’ve also got this social thing about breasts to deal with…. If we can make the social thing about breasts be a nonfactor, then you spend all of your energy fighting the disease. Plus the fact that it needs to be made plain to the caretaker, whether it’s a male or a female, that their partner is not losing something; their body is just taking another form.”

Kirkwood also places his artwork in such places as healthcare facilities, women’s centers, and fitness clubs to help people feel more comfortable with themselves. “We start looking at dips and curves that are really nice, and if we look at ourselves aesthetically as opposed to in a sexual or identifying way, then you don’t see arm, breast, stomach, you see these wonderful curvatures that are juxtaposed to each other. There’s none of this judgmental stuff. The thing is, we’re not going to sleep with everybody, so why do we look at them along those sexual lines?”