By Tim Stark
Considering heroes, especially ones from childhood, is not always a comfortable activity. Those we found inspiration from in the past can, in the light of the present, be found wanting. Looking back with a critical eye at the icons of our past that helped to shape identity, and investigating and interrogating the ideals they represented, must bring the superhuman back to earth and move the hero closer to the heel.
Masculinity is a similarly complicated and often uncomfortable concept to consider. Steeped in systems of misogyny, heteronormativity, and power imbalances, the masculine identity often seems a brittle and thin façade. As a construct, masculinity must be contemplated through our history and social discourse. Moreover, masculinity is also a performance that is continually unfolding, and the ideals we strive for and the choices we make must be taken into account. Looking to our popular culture provides a meaningful way to investigate all of the above.
Understanding masculinity as a performance means to acknowledge its inexorable link to the bodies that enact that performance. The bodies of pop culture heroes often seem to define an ideal of masculinity. They always appear to be somehow bigger, stronger, and faster. But, when that ideal breaks down, what is left? If masculinity is defined by power, and our heroes with impossibly strong and muscular bodies define that power, then what does it mean when those heroes start to fail?
This exhibition, Hard Bodies, is meant to be an examination of the masculine identity, its performance, and its representation pop culture. These works present the forms of icons, bodybuilders and professional wrestlers, that are distorted, abstracted, broken down, and washed out. The works featuring bodybuilders, watercolor on a synthetic surface, render pop culture images of idealized bodies through a process that rejects perfection and control, and requires embracing failure. The larger oil paintings present scenes from professional wrestling matches where the movement and wrestling itself cause the bodies to distort, abstract, and blur together. Finally, watercolor paintings featuring professional wrestling couples blend the two processes together. These works present bodies distorted by the act of wrestling using a medium and process that leans toward failure and abstraction.