Tonight in West Hollywood, the Kardashian Klan will descend upon De Re Gallery on Melrose Avenue. They’ll be there not to attend to a sick former family member, or to stand sideline and applaud a current family member, but to celebrate the ass of Kourtney Kardashian—the eldest of the five sisters—as seen through the lens of fine art.
At this point you’re probably thinking: How in the world can we view the ass of a Kardashian in any new way? Haven’t we seen them all—literally all of them—from every single angle available to the human eye?
Well, brace yourselves, skeptics. In this image, not only is the notoriously attention-hungry Kardashian’s face obscured, but her backside is portrayed from the point of view of Brian Bowen Smith, one of the world’s most sought-after art photographers, who studied under Herb Ritts and has shot everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Adam Driver to Cindy Crawford to Snoop Dogg. Under his gaze, the Kardashian ass—already celebrated by rear-end aficionados the world over—becomes a surprisingly lovely work of art.
Smith’s project, Metallic Life, is based on an idea that came to him years ago. Originally, he planned to take photographs that appeared to be nothing but black space at first, only revealing glimmering naked bodies when the viewer walked closer to the canvas.
But it didn’t work in practice, for reasons that seem obvious upon reflection. “When you saw it,” he says, “you were like, ‘Oh, cool. A black fucking canvas. That’s artsy.'”
So Smith teamed up with a Brooklyn-based make-up artist and began experimenting. And experimenting. And experimenting. “The process took years,” he says.
The final mix consisted of three different layers of body paint—the details of which Smith won’t reveal—but when he glimpsed the right combination of colors, light and shadow, he recognized it. “Once I got the recipe for it,” he says, “I got addicted to it and I couldn’t stop.”
The models in Smith’s show are a mix of celebrities and non-celebrities, including Kardashian, Tallulah Willis, a coffee shop girl, and a woman who works in a restaurant. When approaching potential subjects, Smith says that he was looking more for spirit and enthusiasm than a particular body type. The choice, he explains, was both artistic and practical: “A lot of them had never been nude before.”
That meant that a lot of prep work consisted of just having models stand there, in front of the camera, naked.
“It’s like, ‘I know you feel awkward. This is awkward,'” says Smith. “But after the awkward part is over, they’re not worried about being naked in front of me. And then we can really get going.”
The shoots, all of which were done in Smith’s Los Angeles studio, took nine or ten hours each, including up to three hours of body paint prior to getting in front of the camera. “I didn’t see them before they came out” of the make-up room, he says.
Once the images were complete, it was a grueling process of going over them with various processes and paint, selecting the right printing paper, and looking at the pictures in every imaginable kind of light and setting to make sure that the color’s traits would hold up regardless of where it was displayed.
The result, though, is striking. A collection of grainy-yet-futuristic images, Smith’s models’ physical flaws are somehow exposed, exaggerated, and yet made more beautiful. Upon close inspection, for instance, the viewer can see the emergence of dark hairs on Kourtney Kardashian’s lower back. This despite widespread reporting that all five sisters have had their Middle Eastern bodies meticulously scrubbed of any traces of fuzz via extensive laser hair removal. The inclusion of her pores offers not only a peek at Kourtney’s rarely-glimpsed humanity, but also the welcome reminder that, when taken out of the manic world of pop culture, those hairs seem irresistibly soft and welcoming, lending a uniquely feminine shadow to her perfectly toned sacrum.
It’s an effect that Smith was hoping would come through. “I want people to look at the light and not think about the nudity,” he says.
To get there, he didn’t give his models much direction at first. Instead, “I said, here’s the idea,” he says. “We have to just get in there, and play ball.”
Brian Bowen Smith’s exhibit will be on display from October 22 – November 25. The De Re Gallery is located at 8920 Melrose Ave, 90069. (310) 205-7959