Tom Hill, Frederick Nunley, John Thomas Paradiso
with Dwayne Butcher in the Project Space
In Man on Man, I chose four artists whose works directly or indirectly comment on the formation of the masculine identity and the representation and expectations on men in contemporary society. In addition, they each use materials and methods in ways that are unexpected and exciting, challenging the notion of craft as fine art and the traditional medium and materials men and women have used to express themselves.
Frederick Nunley (solo space) was taught quilt-making at a young age by his Appalachian grandmother who was a nurturing and supporting force in his creative development. One of Frederick’s quilts in the exhibition was begun when he was 12 years old with her help. As we discussed that particular piece, Frederick pointed out the source material for the yo-yo clusters that are a part of it. Scraps from clothing of his family, lost loves, and current partner and friends, all make up the history of the piece. The quilt is an embodiment of Frederick’s experiences.
In other pieces, Frederick challenges the notions of what traditional quilting is, creating pieces that have formal concerns—line, color, pattern, abstraction—to satisfy his need to explore the medium (if you will). Quilting also introduces Frederick to a new community of people and provides him with a meditative experience that’s helpful in today’s busy life—all part of reaffirming who he is.
Tom Hill’s (solo space) painting career spans decades and his work, as one can easily see, is influenced by pornography. For many a gay man, the images of men in porn not only provided rich fantasy but aided in the development of our own identities. Throughout his life, Tom also was actively involved in the work of feminism and the gay and sexual liberation movements. As a result of his research and activism in these areas, he has naturally developed a more complex and nuanced approach to identity. His current work in the exhibition reflects this, I believe.
Tom’s earlier work was mostly representational pieces featuring the male form on strong background colors. These paintings used text to elaborate on the visual content. Later, the representational images in his paintings began to dissolve into an abstraction that plays with the surface and interacts with the background in a challenging way. Text is still present and equally as provocative. The male image in his work is no longer strictly defined but is integrated into a completed piece.
John Thomas Paradiso (solo space) told me a story about his first aesthetic influence—it was found in a 3D sculptural crucifix in his family’s home. It’s an interesting and telling bit because it speaks to an experience that many gay man of a certain age may have had. When seeking out relatable role models and being presented with a suffering shirtless Christ, one might find it hard not to be a bit a conflicted and aroused. For John, this image (and religion) became early references in his work but not necessarily the sole basis of it.
Like Tom, John has been influenced by gay male pornography. His representational work, though, is created with needle and thread and not paint, putting a distinctive edge on the craft. The pieces are hand-stitched on fabric like leather and camouflage with radiating lines around each figure. The result is a dynamic image that creates a pulsing surface tension. In John’s larger multi-panel pieces, he references quilting but with a narrative quality like the piece with Samuel Steward, the subject of the book Secret Historian by Justin Spring, in the center square. An Ohio native and academic, Steward sits appropriately enough within the Ohio star quilt pattern.
Finally, Dwayne Butcher rounds out the exhibition with work in the project space. Dwayne is the one artist who explicitly states that his work is about identity. As the youngest artist in the mix, he was raised at a time when gender roles have been blurred. Children have been given more room to explore who they were. At the same time, Dwayne grew up in a southern environment around people whose expectations of masculinity were more fixed. For Dwayne, the resultant conflicts inspire his work today.
His video piece, 2000, illustrates the challenges of maintaining a 2000-calorie-a-day diet with a sense of humor and nostalgia. Seen in six panels, the work not only relates to the paneled pieces in the solo space, but subverts our expectations. Here in each panel is a nicely dressed and groomed man stuffing his face with bacon, pizza, Doritos and the like. On opposite walls of the project space, the artist provides commentary himself with large hand-cut words admonishing him to be a man and calling out his redneck background.
The work in both spaces, be it the subtle history in a quilt or the more explicit nature of Tom and John’s work or Dwayne’s honest confrontation with himself, comment on the challenges and triumphs of being male today. Join us for this exhibition at doris-mae.