Gallery raises heart rates with nude painting

Just two days after Metropolis Gallery opened in its new location on Callow Avenue Feb. 14, a nude painting in their front window has ignited a controversy.

The two-by three-foot acrylic canvas with a black and pink striped frame depicts a woman lounged on a blanket with her upper torso exposed.

It’s called “Spring” and has a price tag of $600.

To the artist who painted it, it’s just a depiction of the female form, but to the Christian book store owner next door, it is inappropriate and should be taken out of the front window.

“My initial thought was that my daughter can paint better than that, and my next thought was that it does nothing to change the concept of the red light district of the street,” said David Hutchins, owner of the Mustard Seed on 330 North Callow.

Callow Avenue is home to the three adult book stores in Bremerton.

They have been around long before Hutchins opened the Mustard Seed four years ago.

Hutchins didn’t want Metropolis to take the painting out of their gallery, he just didn’t want children to see it if they walked by the front window on their way to his bookstore or the Charleston Cinemas, which often shows G-rated flicks.

“We have had people tell us they never come down onto Callow because it’s a red light district.”

Just like Hutchins is trying to dispel the pornographic image of Callow, the painter of the nude in question, Gwen Atwood, 57, is trying to dispel the myth that nude painting is inappropriate.

“That’s what I do,” she said. “I paint nudes. I don’t think there’s anything more beautiful than the human body. I don’t think any of my art is about sin and temptation. When I paint someone I don’t think of them as a sexual object.”

Atwood is vice president at Metropolis and frequently shows her work at the gallery. She and President Patrick Romnaigh-Cooper hung all the paintings and art pieces in the front window.

Metropolis is a cooperative organization, where members pay dues each month that cover the rent and utilities. Each member contributes a couple volunteer hours throughout the month, from spackling and painting to vacuuming the floor.

When Hutchins and pedestrians came into the gallery to start complaining about the art piece, Romnaigh-Cooper phoned members and took a vote on whether to keep the painting in the window.

The final vote was 8-4 to leave the painting be.

Although Romnaigh-Cooper supported keeping the painting in the window, his wife Rebecca argued fervently to keep it in the back.

“Simply to be a good neighbor,” she said. “Everyone kept saying it was about the kids,” that’s why it should be removed. With her background in community relations work, Romnaigh-Cooper knew the importance of spreading a good image in the neighborhood.

However, consensus wins at Metropolis, so she eventually supported the group’s decision.

After polling members, Patrick Romnaigh-Cooper drafted a letter stating their reasons for keeping it in the window.

“We examined the work to determine if it was erotic, or pornographic, and none of us believes there is anything lustful about the piece. The painting has nothing unseemly about it.

Atwood moved from Port Townsend to Bremerton six years ago because she could not show her nude paintings in businesses there.

Six months ago, she showed nudes at Highline Community College’s library, and in June, she will show her work at Minor Gallery in Seattle.

Her work is no stranger to controversy in Bremerton.

Two years ago, she exhibited nudes for one day in downtown Bremerton on Fourth Street and people called the mayor’s office to complain. Those paintings were of males.

“I don’t go out and cause trouble,” she said. “What amazes me is people are so ashamed (of nudity). I don’t understand why it is such a controversy.”

Romnaigh-Cooper assured Hutchins that all paintings in Metropolis’ front window would rotate out every two weeks.

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