Others is an exhibition that showcases the marginal. The works collected here draw attention to less dominant, less accepted, and frequently hidden forms of masculinity. In so doing, they pluralize our understandings of what masculinity is, how it is represented, refracted and ultimately lived. This is an exhibition that dares to suggest what masculinity can be in a world where the margins are empowered to speak back to the majority.
The works shown here are diverse and divergent, yet they share in common a propensity to push against dominant kinds of masculinity that, in passing for the normal, enable not just hetero-normativity, but the predatory and misogynistic realities that savage our social world. Others provides a space to explore and comprehend the broad aesthetic registers through which a kaleidoscope of non-dominant masculinities proliferate. Variously combining the traditions of Punk, Queer aesthetics, Surrealism, Abstraction and Figurative art, this is a show that creatively and curatorially makes the familiar coordinates of rote masculinity strange, unhomely, awkward. The works we combine and juxtapose collectively explore identity positions for which we might not yet have a language. Others invites us into domains of difference that are at once dynamic, heterodox, and uncanny, yet always deeply human.
Mark Dutcher, Aaron Smith and Andrew Mania use differing styles and processes. Their work collected here is eclectic in terms of its variegated visual content, style and form. However, it is work that aesthetically, conceptually and politically speaks collectively to a desire to explore the freedom to be strange.
In Dutcher’s abstractions, joy, optimism, playful experimentation and determination are key. Glitter, silver and gold leaf are used alongside traditional materials like oil and acrylic paint. Dutcher’s practice reflects the anarchic culture of Punk’s legacy, yet his work also testifies to the traces and trauma of loss experienced during the AIDS epidemic. Film and literature also influence his painting. The Window and Prisoner series symbolically portrays the two prisoners in adjacent cells in Jean Genet’s film Un Chant d’Amour (1950), the painting’s grid alluding to barred windows, and abstract curved elements evoking the profiles of both men. In the large Querelle paintings, sweeping brushstrokes of black, white and grey are accompanied by small dabs of purple, green, and yellow on the boundaries. Tighter brush strokes in the middle of the canvas reveal solitary figures. They appear troubled, contorted, burdened like the characters in Jean Genet’s 1947 novel Querelle of Brest.
Aaron Smith’s subjects are contemporary men, depicted alone, or in pairs, in poses that reference male figures of Greek, Roman and Etruscan history, but imperfectly so. Smith applies thick oils in high value pinks, reds, and blues to paint figures who sit against the monotone backgrounds of more muted, demure colours. The subjects pose importantly, springing forward in his compositions. They mimic men of stature, but Smith’s vivid colours and textured and layered brushwork evokes narratives concealed beneath the surface of this mimicry.
Andrew Mania is known for his shirt depicting a portrait of Timothée Chalamet worn by James Ivory at the Oscars in 2018. In this show, we highlight Mania’s use of pencil on thin veneers of wood to depict young men. He uses precise lines to define features, whilst his subject’s clothing and backdrops comprise solid blocks of colour or scribbles. In larger works Mania extends colour onto the frame, large expanses are interrupted by staring, pretty and fabulous eyes. Stylized disco features strongly in Mania’s portraits, recalling 1980s album covers and the ambiguous sexuality of New Romantic poster boys. Young men stare at the viewer with piercing or twinkling blue eyes and rosy red lips. Mania often leaves bare veneers exposed in his compositions and where drawn on in colour pencil the grain adds a textural quality.
There is a long intellectual history informing contemporary understandings of otherness in, for example, postcolonial and queer theory; feminist, gender and intersectional studies; and critical race and Black studies. What this broad spectrum of scholarship foregrounds in different ways is both the fact and, importantly for us, the quality of being different. There are always ‘Others’, those who buck the norm in wonderfully creative, expressive and individualistic ways, whether in terms of masculinity, sexuality, race, or any other marker of what we so easily refer to as ‘identity’.
Others, therefore, is as much a concept as it is an exhibition. In choosing it as the title for this show, we consciously celebrate artists who have the daring, imagination and capacity to bring the wonderful and creative excess of humanity into representation. Others celebrates the bountiful potential of marginality, as well as the unique and subversive quality of subject positions without ‘identity’.
For future generations we hope that the concept of Others will be anathema, archaic, anachronistic. We hope that an exhibition like this will be but a quirky footnote in the history of a society that is far more egalitarian than it is now. But this future is still a long way off, which we believe makes the works of Dutcher, Smith, and Mania collected here ever more prescient.