written by Eddie Arroyo
One artist I was obsessed with in undergrad was John Singer Sargent. This had nothing to do with his subject matter – had no interest in the Victorian era and its social dynamics. It was his masterful execution in technique, the pallet, the attention to each of this subjects captured their humanity. Which had always been my fascination. There was a body of work which called my attention and apparently I was not alone in this curiosity. It came in in the form of a 1998-1999 retrospective in London, Washington, D.C., Boston and the Seattle Art Museum. The show was entitled, “John Singer Sargent: The Sensualist,” and presented him as “a complicated, exuberant, passionate individual with a homosexual identity.” In addition to the exhibit was a series of 30 charcoal drawing of well-built strikingly good looking African American models. This was work which was never exhibited in his lifetime.
To contextualize, Sargent had been known to have a non-existent intimate life being a lifelong bachelor. Some scholars had suggested that Sargent was a homosexual; with personal associations with Prince Edmond de Polignac and Count Robert de Montesquiou. The nature of his sexuality was not what I found puzzling. It was the speculation that captured my fascination. This human impulse was not an effort to limit him or deconstruct his entire practice in the negative but as an exercise to gain a greater understanding of the individual.
We talk about stereotypes as a path to racism and phobia which in many cases it does. However, it is part of the human condition to understand and absorb what has been observed.
Essentially, a stereotype is nothing more than a hypothesis which require constant testing, interpretation, analyzing, and reviewing. This method occurred to me when observing the work of Christopher McDonald’s Bored Horny exhibition at the Jacqueline Falcone Bed & Breakfast (JFB&B) last Friday.
The execution of the JFB&B is as follows: an exhibition is presented at her home in her bedroom and people are invited to stay for the night where they will live with the work for an evening, wake up in the morning to enjoy a meal. In the past her shows had been group exhibitions but this was the first solo show. So when stepping into her room I was introduced to a number of nude drawings of well-endowed men displayed salon style. These were all men presenting themselves in various positions but for the most part they were seated handling their member with great pride. McDonald had explored video chatting websites such as Chatroulette and Manroulette where he had taken their image and rendered it simply focusing on their form for there was no recognizable portraiture. These are essentially figure drawings. I asked him if he had any interest in drawing women and felt it unnecessary. Now this was curious position to be in. Standing in this space, many things ran through my mind which made for a dynamic situation. Before beginning, I am compelled to address thee question. Is this “gay art” and if there is such a thing as “gay art” what is the benefit to addressing it as such?
Of course, the human impulse to stereotype McDonald’s exhibition would be cast in a different light if the focus was on well-endowed women or a mixture of the two or if they were not well endowed but average. Add to this a quote in his artist statement, “This series is far from pornographic.” I found the work to be pornographic upon first impression but had not gone through the process. A process where contemporary technology would allow me experience it. And due to the abundance of rendered graphite and charcoal pieces of men, I became desensitized. They were indeed forms however would the same effect take place if these were women? The answer would be yes.
Of course, with the rendered image this would be the case for art history is littered with nude sensual women and I remain unaffected appreciating their form. I began to see it in McDonalds work in reference to Sargent. These are desirable men. He is celebrating them in their boredom as they pose in various positions showcasing their assets much as so much nude artwork has done in the past. Here we are over the precipitous of understanding a culture with the advent of gay marriage and the rights and recognition it has to offer. Last Saturday afternoon Michael Sam made history as the first openly gay NFL draft pick for the RAMS as American sports was inundated with images of Sam making out with his partner upon receiving the news. What remains is the question does it matter in reference to the practice, in the spirit of stereotyping, hypothesizing, and observation? Perhaps in the future it will not but for now I personally find it beneficial to witness the collective curiosity as to the nature of a body of work by artists such as Sargent/McDonald – in their being.