In our culture, the physical sense of manliness is central to the cultural interpretation of gender. Masculine gender is a certain feel to the skin, certain muscular shapes and tensions, certain postures and ways of moving.1
Michelangelo’s David; the original and enduring symbol of youthful strength, virility and masculine beauty. Yet due to inherent flaws in the second-hand piece of marble Michelangelo inherited, his resulting David’s elongated, and slightly top-heavy proportions echo modern medias ubiquitous representation of an unobtainable body image. The narrow modes of acceptable manliness continue to be perpetuated, not through chisel and mallet, but with photoshop and social media hashtags.
We all invest in looks that are associated with the sort of attention we desire. As modern society trends towards a more sedentary urban lifestyle of office jobs over manual labour, one reaction to the redundancy of the traditional male role has been the rise of a kind of cosmetic hyper-masculinity - the overtly performed version of working class manhood. The shiny muscles, tattoos, go-getting out-doorsy action sports, loud music and loud cars all hope to pump out the message that he’s still a real man despite the collapse of heavy industry and a clearly defined status.2 It follows that so too our male heroes seem to have become ever more brazen images of muscular manhood to reassure the urban effetes and decadents.3
Psychologist Carl Rogers used the word ‘Congruence’, when describing the relationship between the idealised self and the real self. The idealised self is an often-unreachable version of ourselves that we and society create, while the real self is the messy, imperfect inner truth. We want to be the idealised version because we believe that society will then regard us positively, so we struggle to maintain a version that does not really fit.4
My practice is a continued investigation into how masculine identity is formed, developed and expressed in the world. But also, how others perceive, react and respond to this ‘Masculine Performance’ by unpacking how and why men learn, then propagate and perpetuate ideas of masculinity throughout their life. The works address the burden of masculinity, the burden bound up in the collective practice of performing masculinity: loneliness, depression, violence, conspicuous over-consumption and the propensity for risk-taking.
The performance of the painter becomes critical but how can this performance be calibrated to celebrate the potential of the medium while avoiding it being a simplistic celebration of all things male? What can paint contribute to the content of the work and, more specifically, how can paint represent and embody those notions, rather than merely re-presenting observed action via a photo referent.