No one was actually naked in Kira Pandukht's living room last Thursday, but any traces of formality disappeared the moment the front door opened.
On a long table facing the entryway, the Laguna Beach artist — who goes professionally by her first name — had set out a colorful smorgasbord of treats in anticipation of her interview. Three wine bottles squeezed in alongside glasses, candles, a Buddha head, food trays and flowers, plus a pair of sculptures that spelled out the words "hope" and "love."
The letters might as well have spelled out: "Relax, we're at home here."
"You're the first person to come over in a while who doesn't know all my quirks," Pandukht said as her shaggy white dog, Dewey, ran excitedly in circles on the floor.
In recent weeks, quite a few people have been introduced to Pandukht's quirks — if that's the right word for her aesthetic convictions. Every Saturday, the sculptor co-hosts the TradioV show "The Artful Undress," which deals with the theme of nudity. That's nudity in an artistic and philosophical sense, of course — meaning that 13-year-old boys who sneak a peek may lose interest quickly.
For Kira and her co-host, Polina Hryn, the show provides adult entertainment in the deepest sense: an opportunity to discuss the concept of being unclothed and how it relates to spirituality, freedom of expression and other deeper issues.
In August, TradioV, an online channel that broadcasts in-studio discussions (think of it as a radio station with a camera filming the recording), debuted "The Artful Undress." Since then, the hosts have appeared with musicians, painters and others from the Laguna art scene and beyond.
"Nudity, we don't believe is about the clothes," Pandukht said. "That's what the name of the show is about — 'The Artful Undress.' It's about becoming vulnerable, breaking it down."
'We want to provoke you'
Anyone visiting Pandukht's home shouldn't be surprised to be offered a glass of wine. On "The Artful Undress," the beverage is a constant prop as the hosts and guests drink and toast each other throughout the show.
In a studio in Los Angeles, Pandukht and Hryn sit in a black-walled room with the former's artwork situated throughout. The hosts have never had a live nude person on the show, but the subject is a constant motif; one episode, which centered on music, began with a montage of famous nude album covers and showed a scene from Erykah Badu's "Window Seat" video, in which she strips at the site of John F. Kennedy's assassination.
The first episode, broadcast Aug. 17, served as a mission statement of sorts for the program: Pandukht spoke in the opening moments about how American society had grown more conservative toward fine art and how her own bronze nudes sometimes got a hostile reaction.
"We want to provoke you," she told viewers. "Every episode, we want to provoke you to feel something as our listener."
A moment later, Hryn elaborated: "There's nothing wrong with the human body. It's something to glorify, actually, not to hide."
The Laguna residents found a fellow believer in Michael Zinna, the founder and president of TradioV, who first spotted Pandukht on a PBS commercial for her art and met her through a mutual friend shortly after. After Zinna visited the artist at home and saw her sculptures, he pitched her the show's concept.
Hryn, a painter and arts promoter who has known Pandukht for more than a decade, signed on as co-host. Even though broadcasting was a new endeavor for both women — "It's not necessarily our comfort zone," Hryn said — they dove into planning.
"It's a unique concept, and one that is long overdue — but frankly could only thrive at an online station," Zinna wrote in an email. "FCC broadcast stations would never air 'The Artful Undress,' mostly because it's too authentic. Broadcast networks would rather pretend that 'nudity' is a place where lewd artists go, rather than the truth, which is that 'nudity' is where all great artists begin."
Feeling for inspiration
Pandukht doesn't see well. That's not apparent from the nude sculptures that line one wall of her living room, or the inspirational placards hung around the first floor. A hint of it showed during conversation Thursday when she apologized for not seeing something in the corner of her eye — not because she was distracted but because, truthfully, she couldn't see it.
Thirteen years ago, the artist suffered a car accident that left her with tunnel vision, three herniated discs and a slew of ailments that followed: chicken pox, pneumonia, a staph infection. Her medications caused her memory to turn spotty. Sometimes, she fell and injured her head again.
Around her 30th birthday, as she found herself wasting down to 80 pounds and taking food intravenously, Pandukht started herself on a therapy regimen.
"I went into the canyon and bought a pack of clay and put it in the garage, and when I couldn't sleep, my whole goal was, 'I'm going to sculpt how much pain I'm in,'" she said.
That first night, Pandukht created an image of fragility: a girl huddled in a blanket and holding her knees. Once she finished, she felt her pain decrease. Moving on, she sculpted another girl in the fetal position and an angel groping on the ground for a halo that had fallen off.
Six years ago, Pandukht quit her social worker job and devoted herself full-time to bronze sculpture. With her narrow line of vision, she sometimes sculpted in the dark, touching parts of her body to work out the contours of the clay before she added wax and bronze.
"I think I was almost touch-therapying myself," she said. "I was learning every muscle. I was learning where things went and why they were in the right place."
Pandukht, who considers herself an anxious person by nature, doesn't feel entirely at peace unless she's at work on a sculpture. Even during filming sessions for "The Artful Undress," she feels her pulse racing. But the joy of broadcasting — of sharing her passion with viewers — gets her through it.
"I do excitement well," she said. "I do enthusiasm well."
'The Artful Undress'
When: 5 p.m. Saturdays
View online: tradiov.comCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun