Style & Grooming

Antonio Lopez’s Sensual Drawings of Dancers

A new exhibition Antonio Lopez: Let Me Hear Your Body Talk focuses on lesser-known images from the prolific fashion illustrator’s oeuvre, which capture the dance- and body-obsessed zeitgeist of the 1980s

When Olivia Newton-John dropped Physical, it shot straight to number one, where it remained for ten straight weeks in the winter of 1981. The cheeky hit signified a new era had come: the dawn of gym culture and pop athleticism. Fashion would quickly follow suit, turning dancewear into daywear and marking the start of athleisure decades before the term was ever used.

As he proved adept, the celebrated illustrator Antonio Lopez (1943–1987) managed to capture the zeitgeist. In 1977, he created more than 50 costume sketches for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s iconic opening night performance at Studio 54, which will be on view in Studio 54: Night Magic at the Brooklyn Museum.

By the time Newton-John donned aerobics gear for the Physical video, Lopez had begun to blaze a new path in his dynamic career, focusing on the beauty of the human form in a series of renderings of dancers from The Louis Falco Dance Company. Completed between 1982-1985, Lopez’s 12 black and white pencil drawings and four large-scale watercolours offer an intimate look at the artist’s early efforts to move out of fashion and into the realms of fine art. The works will be on view in Antonio Lopez: Let Me Hear Your Body Talk, opening March 5 at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in New York. 

Since the late 1960s, Lopez has begun to revolutionise high fashion by using models of colour in his work for publications like Vogue, Interview and Vanity Fair. They included Grace Jones, Pat Cleveland, Cathee Dahmen, and Tina Chow, while his other favoured models, Jessica Lange, Jerry Hall, and Warhol Superstars Donna Jordan, Jane Forth, and Patti D’Arbanville became collectively known as ‘Antonio’s Girls’.

“Antonio was moving away from fashion although he kept his foot in the fashion world; there was such a demand from Vogue and those people,” says artist Paul Caranicas, executor of the Estate of Antonio Lopez and Juan Ramos, and the author of Antonio’s People (Thames & Hudson, 2004). “This was the very beginning of a lot of personal work that he did. I think he really wanted to be a part of the art world the way Andy Warhol had done.”

Nightlife and music were cornerstones of Lopez’s work, and the hot new ‘gym body’ was quickly becoming all the rage. His practice of drawing from life underscores the artist’s signature blend of rhythm, play, and queer desire. 

“Antonio and Juan’s big thing was education,” Caranicas says. “When they would give lectures at colleges around the country, they didn’t only draw fashion, they drew the body. They would have nude models come out wearing only horsetails that they had made especially for that lecture and Antonio would do a live drawing in front of the students of a nude. The human body was always one of his interests.”

Antonio Lopez: Let Me Hear Your Body Talk is at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in New York until April 25, 2020 

Studio 54: Night Magic is at the Brooklyn Museum in New York from March 13-July 5, 2020