Interview October 2013:
Mid-Career Survey Exhibition:
Sugar is Combustible: BCC MKE
Photo Diary 1989-2012
Thomas Hellstrom: Photographs in the Present Tense
By Steven Gdula
Featured in Britain’s premier art, design and lifestyle publication reFRESH
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Projects 2000 - 2013
A morning love song or poem about lovers separating at dawn.
Aubades were in the repertory of the troubadours of the Middle Ages,
the form first appeared in the English language in the 1380s.
PULSE NY 2008
Sugar is Combustible:
Photo Diary 1989-2014
from: December, 1999
SCOPE NY 2007
Contact: Feature Inc., NYC
Buzzer Thirty, NY
Snuff: A short story by Rob Maitra
S Ioannes De Deo
The Portrait Society, June 2012
Scope Miami 2005
The Armory Show, NYC, 2006
Camera Austria #81
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Thomas Hellstrom Studio
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ART REVIEW | 'TODAY'S MAN'
Hiromi Yoshii Gallery
October – November 2003
John Connelly Presents
526 West 26th Street, 10th Floor, NYC
July 19th - September 13th 2003
The White House is concerned. The Vatican is upset. And honestly, who can blame them, with so much normality up for grabs? Marriage and the family are under revision. Sodomy is, suddenly, not a crime. Gays are in Congress, in pulpits, on prime-time television. When I tell you that a show titled "Bravehearts: Men in Skirts" opens at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this fall, you'll see how far things have gone.
The good news is that in contemporary art they've gone even further, judging by the evidence of "Today's Man," a dandy group show at John Connelly Presents in Chelsea. It includes some 50 small pieces by as many artists, from senior figures like Alex Katz and A. A. Bronson to a raft of youthful prodigies: Mathew Cerletty, Nick Mauss, Spencer Sweeney and the one-namers Asianpunkboy and Phiiliip, to mention a few.
The theme is simple: men making art about men. Naturally, it raises expectations of a gay show, which "Today's Man" both is and is not. Explicit homoeroticism is all but absent. Straight artists tackle gayish themes. And the artists who are gay seem to have scant interest in "we're here we're queer get used to it" declarations.
The fact is, everyone concerned is used to it. Gay culture has traveled so deep into the mainstream in recent years that a presumed opposite like straight, once headed in a different direction, seems to have come along and in certain cosmetic ways merged with it. What accounts for this? Time, for one thing. Most of the artists at Connelly are too young to have experienced AIDS or the identity politics of the 1990's firsthand. They're beyond self-acceptance in terms of sexual identity; they've never known it as a threatened condition.
But such confidence has pluses and minuses. Thanks in part to path-clearing feminist and gay art of the past, young artists can draw on a vast pool of cultural references: to fashion, crafts, pop music, Saturday morning cartoons, art history, advertising, digital technology, flower power psychedelia, horror movies, spirituality, science fiction, pornography. The list goes on.
With so much tinder, sparks are bound to fly, and inventive artists like Christian Holstad, Scott Hug and Eli Sudbrack, a k a Assume Vivid Astro Focus — all in the Connelly show — have been generating considerable heat. But they have done so in funny ways, some of which recall the camp phenomenon defined by Susan Sontag in the early 1960's. "Camp is a solvent of morality," she wrote. "It neutralizes moral indignation, sponsors playfulness." That fits. So does her description of camp as depoliticized or apolitical, though, of course, political can be defined in many ways.
But I am oversimplifying the current situation, which is pretty complicated. "Today's Man," in a shorthand way, provides a lot of information about it, including a sense of the variety of masculinities in circulation. Some are not so new. The three suave men in Alex Katz's 1985 painting "Twelve Hours No. 1" might have stepped from a Paul Stuart catalog; Richard Phillip's portrait of the rapper Curtis Jackson relies on off-the-rack gangsta glamour.
A meticulous drawing by Mr. Hug titled "Michael Magnan" also adheres to a prototype, the action-hero cartoon, but slyly customizes it. The hero named in his title is the young artist Michael Magnan, creator of the fashion line Do Not Provoke Us, who contributes a drawing of his own: a high-1960's paisley-patterned image of a cosmic everyman cut out in silhouette from clouds.
Three tiny Photo Realist paintings by Everest Hall depict action-heroes of a different kind, namely those found in gay pornography, including that antique model of Marlboro Man machismo, the "clone." This erotic ideal is entertainingly updated in a florid, wet-dream drawing by Mr. Sudbrack; in a fabric collage by James Gobel; and obliquely in cave-man images by Bill Adams and Billy Grant.
Certain artists seem to have looked with care at fashion illustration: David West in his reedy, Bernard Buffet-ish ink portraits of friends; Kentaro Kobuke in a Picassoid figure, all angles and points; and Adrian Garcia Gomez in his vivid tattoolike "Geve," with its snaky body and aura of gilt flames.
A stylishly nonchalant ink sketch by Phiiliip, a songwriter and musician of expanding renown, gives a lot of space to writing, some of it crammed into a thought-balloon attached to its supine male figure: "I feel so elegant, so fancy free." For light-touch virtuosity, though, nothing matches Mr. Mauss's drawing "Kenneth Okiishi, Reluctant Effeminist," a half-materialized portrait of a fellow artist set among miniexplosions of bright color.
Several other people at Connelly — Paul Brainard, Sam Gordon, Paul P., Justin Lieberman, Matthew Keegan, Pieter Schoolwerth, Christophe Hamaide Pierson, Arnoud Holleman — also deliver polished figural work; Tim Lokiec, has 1960's Rockport School expressionism down cold. Interestingly, no two pieces look at all alike; it's as if each artist lived in his own remote galaxy, with periodic visits to the common conceptual pool. Maybe it's just the art that Mr. Connelly has chosen, but idiosyncrasy seems to be a style of its own.
This goes for narrative work, too, from Rob Thom's painting of drama in a fast-food restaurant to Hernan Bas's picture of a boy threatened by an octopus from his "Little Moby Dick in the Net" series. Dan Attoe's nocturne, "Looking Through the Dump" and Thomas Hellstrom's apparitional "Thereafter No. 06," one of the few photographs, share a Romantic, visionary mood, but nothing else.
Visionary is also the word for Jeff Davis's drawing of a pile of placidly smiling male heads bathed in celestial light and Jules de Balincourt's "Men's Safety Center," with its somewhat alarming image of what looks like an internment camp with a rainbow-beamed searchlight.
My best-of-show in the narrative division, however, is split between two completely unalike pieces: Michael Wetzel's painting "Fairfield vs. New Canaan," in which a Civil War battle rages among flowered bedsheets hung out to dry; and Nick Lowe's astonishing "Arabian Workout," a pumping-iron tableau of insanely precise detail executed in the most basic of media, pencil on paper.
Not everyone is so formally orthodox. Philippe Perrot paints with topical antiseptic; Asianpunkboy uses a mixture of bodily fluid and Pepto-Bismol to embellish a portrait embossed on paper. There are only two sculptures, both good: a white plaster life-mask titled "Vincent" by Mr. Sweeney, and Marco Boggio Sella's imposing bronze bust of a military type with a Pinocchio nose.
With its urgent tone, a text-and-image collage by the filmmaker T. J. Wilcox could be from another world: it's about a fire-breathing transsexual activist from Seattle who climbs electric poles to deliver consciousness-raising messages, of a kind that can leave political and religious powers-that-be unnerved. And at least one other artist, Mr. Holstad, seems interested in keeping such tensions alive.
In a recent show at Greene Naftali, he presented an installation of all the images he found filed under the label "gay" in the picture archives of the New York Public Library. When he copied the images, he sorted them into categories: "Drag queens; porn; Gay Rights/protests; AIDS; trying to be like straight people (passing); Military; Art." Protest pictures turned out to be the largest selection.
If there is little direct evidence of an activist spirit in "Today's Man," that may be a sign of the times, a generational thing, and could change. Meanwhile, the show's decentered concept of masculinity amounts to a political statement in itself. And there's Mr. Holstad's contribution to consider: a photo-collage of a faunlike nude boy — the imp of perversity, surely — peering out from behind a sofa in a White House reception room.
© copyright Thomas Hellstrom 2013-2014