When Tracey Sharpe told a friend about an exhibition of paintings of nudes at her Kennebunk gallery, the friend raised his eyebrows and said, “That sounds racy.”

The response surprised Sharpe.

“I think it’s exactly opposite,” said Sharpe. “A painting of a nude is not pornographic or sexual. It is art.”

The Sharpe Gallery, 21 Western Ave., Kennebunk, is showing about 60 paintings or drawings of the human figure through Monday. Sharpe timed the show to coincide with Valentine’s Day, because nothing suggests love and passion quite like the naked human body.

“It’s a classic art form,” she said. “Artists have been painting nudes for a long time.”

Among them is Portland painter Francine Schrock. She is best known for her landscapes and seascapes, but readily accepted the challenge of painting nudes. As part of her art training in college, she learned to draw nudes.

She has four paintings and one drawing in the show.

“I feel a kind of similar excitement about painting the figure as I do any other imagery that excites me,” Schrock said.

“People like landscapes. That’s what they buy. A figurative painting is a harder sell, which is why you don’t see as many of them. But it’s very rewarding. It’s very sensual and intimate. You are entering someone else’s private world, and presenting how they feel about their body. To present it as art is really a gift.”

Sharpe opened her gallery last spring. She planned to close for winter, but the nudes show made sense to coincide with Valentine’s week. She is open only through Monday, then will close again until spring.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes