Larissa Bates both celebrates the male gender identity within the history of art while struggling to disassemble heteronormative understandings. As a way to foreground these issues, Larissa has assembled a motley cast of idiosyncratic characters, all of her own invention. Like a method actor, Larissa has delved deep within the psychis of her creations, their implications and motivations. Set within the backdrop of expressive pastoral scenes, influenced by the work of Nicholas Poussin, hoards of fantasy creations lead their grandiose dramas. Larissa recounts the struggles of her imagined MotherMen, Lederhosen Boys, and Little Napoleons in an epic practice not unlike Henry Darger’s warring Vivian Girls. Her current body of work, “Just Hustle and Muscle” is on view at the Monya Rowe Gallery in New York, from now until October 18th.
Can you describe some of your influences and inspirations—whether visual, musical, ideological?
LB: My influences fall in to two major categories: responding to other artists’ work, and investigating gender roles. Colier Schorr’s series of wrestlers from Blair Academy, and the power struggles depicted in Layla Ali’s miniature gouaches are both conceptually and formally fascinating.
I spend a lot of time working alone and listening to NPR and books on tape. I am not sure how directly that influences my work, but it gets integrated. My favorite show right now is actually “Voices in the Family” with the psychologist Dan Gottlieb. Parenting and family are the places where gender roles become most compelling and interesting to me.
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Many of your paintings feature centaur-like wrestlers set against pastoral scenes, recalling the expressive qualities found in French Renaissance artist Nicholas Poussin or Persian miniatures. What made you decide to insert the iconic figure of male wrestlers within this setting?
LB: Initially I developed an interest in the western Landscapes of Thomas Moran and Bierstadt. Many of their paintings supported the idea of the untamed, empty western landscape. The frontier ties into the concept of the cowboy, which relates to our current ideals of masculinity. This conceptual interest in landscapes expanded into a formal interest in a range of landscape artists—which brought me to the works of Gainsborough and Poussin, among others.
Occasionally you insert incongruous references into the works—such as laser beams or grid like overlays- why these visual strategies?
LB: The laser beams and grids reflect more of the visual culture of my current time. If all of the paintings were in the style of Poussin and the Northern Renaissance painter Joachim de Patinir, I don’t think that they would reflect the contemporary culture that they are meant to address. The paintings are influenced by everything from Rococo painters to video games, so they incorporate a wide range of references. By using references from many genres, I depict a mythical space that exists now, even as it draws from the near and distant past—1980s to Renaissance.