Naked Under the Lights is set in and around the iconic Art Students League in New York City where 20th Century stars of the art world studied and taught. Here, Bert Kossoff teaches painting when he is not cloistered in his studio. His wife Ruth defends her husband’s distance and tolerates his infidelities for the sake of their daughter. Sonata at age 18, lacking purpose of her own, is drawn to the mystique of her father in his world of artists and models. There she is betrayed by her artist/lover and comes to feel used, like Irene, a nude model posing for others to take what they want.
In the struggle to find her way, Sonata encounters family secrets long concealed and later, one that tears open their lives, exposing the lies that have sustained them.
As each member of this shattered family finds a path to move forward, art itself—the urgency to create—is revealed as a force of its own. The terrain is confounding, where people searching for truth have learned to practice the art of illusion.
Telling this story of passion in family and in art, the author, an artist herself, makes both come vibrantly alive.
Black Rose Writing 307pp
“The daughter of a brilliant, selfish painter struggles to find her way in this coming-of-age novel.
Feeling adrift in 1975 with women’s roles in flux, 18-year-old Sonata Kossoff suddenly develops an interest in art and the work of her father, Bert, an abstract painter and instructor at Manhattan’s Art Students League. Unfortunately, Bert, a womanizer who cheats relentlessly on Sonata’s mother, Ruth, and a neglectful dad, doesn’t return the interest…
Peck, a sculptor and art professor, steeps readers in a sharp-eyed sketch of the art school scene while dissecting the dynamics between artists and the muses who find power in naked subjection. (A model named Agnes “peered at the students from the summit where she stood, as if deciding how much pose the group was entitled to, then lay down and settled into a reclining position.”) The author’s subtle, nuanced prose in this knotty tale explores Sonata’s tensions with a father who can seem monstrously cold—“She wanted to reach up and hug him but stopped herself because they had never actually hugged and he might shrug her off”—but whose obliviousness is the flip side of his absorption in the artistic flow. (“Try to work with some freedom and abandon until you see how the paint flows, how it makes edges, how thin, how thick you can make it,” he tells Sonata in a rare moment of attentiveness.) The result is a complex, moving story about the raptures and haunting price of the creative life.
A rich depiction of the tangled ties of love, art, and family.”
“Complex and compelling. A fascinating look at the world as artists perceive it—including the painful self-doubt and driving need to express the inexpressible. Judith Peck leads us through a family whose dominating figure is a driven artist. She is both convincing and illuminating about the heavy cost of such dedication.”
-Janet Burroway, author of Writing Fiction and eight novels including Raw Silk and Bridge of Sand
“Peck has wonderful characters, excellent dialogue, a strong understanding of what makes a scene and how to pace a story. Her insight into the art world and what makes artists tick makes this novel unique.”
-Terri Valentine, award winning author of twelve novels.
“Judith Peck’s latest novel, Naked Under the Lights is a remarkable achievement. I could hardly put the book down and read it through the night. For over 50 years I belong to a college club book group, and this is one of the best novels I have read.”
Dr. Judith Peck is Professor Emeritus of Art, Ramapo College of New Jersey. She is author of several books on art techniques and creativity in learning for teachers and parents. Her sculptures are included in 80 public and private collections internationally. Pictures and information about her work can be viewed at www.judithpeck.com and titles of other books at www.imagination-arts.com.