Exploring Masculinity, Queer Expression And Self Identity Through Illustration

A celebration of male beauty and sexuality
05/29/2017 06:41 am ET Updated May 31, 2017

I have spent the past 20 or so years of my life sleepwalking to some degree, presenting versions of myself that adhered to others’ expectations of me, policing my every behavior, fading quietly into the background. These last six months I’ve come into my own more; I liken it to waking up from a long trance. In many ways I’m picking up where I left off as a little boy who picked flowers, who was then unaware of the tremendous identity struggles that lay ahead, the enormous battle to be waged simply to “be”. 

These recent profound changes within me have manifested in my work. While at art school I was in the process of coming out, and dealing with the emotional trauma of that left little room to consider my career path. I had always been an illustrator, but sort of fell into painting because my school didn’t have an illustration major. I pushed my skills and learned a great deal as a painter, but over the past few months I’ve been feeling a pull towards my original form of artistic self expression, illustration. It’s still the tip of the iceberg and I’m not sure where this body of work will take me yet. Each portrait has helped me to unlock more of my technical ability, so it’s definitely a process. I do know that I’ve let go of the mountain of pressure that used to weigh on me. I’m no longer trying to mold my life around this limited idea of what a successful art career is supposed to look like, and I’m letting the work come purely from the heart the way I did as a child. 

I was always terrified of making work that spoke to who I am as a queer individual. I would imagine friends and family reacting to seeing me explore my sexuality within my work, and what they would say about me. This fear of what people think of me has been the single biggest downfall of my whole life, and has continually held me back. I stuck to landscapes, and generally “safe” territory. Someone once told me “I’m glad you paint pretty scenes, and none of that ‘weird artist stuff’.” I smiled politely but inwardly knew that the “weird artist stuff” was within me just begging to be explored. 

And so here I am. Like I stated earlier, this body of work is still evolving so we’ll see what forms it takes. For now, I am celebrating male beauty and sexuality through portraits of beautifully unique individuals, as well as exploring queer expression, fashion and romance. Incorporating flowers for me is a play on the duality of masculine and feminine energies found within myself, and in all men (though unfortunately many are unaware of this, or seek to suppress any feminine expression within themselves as a result of our culture imbued with toxic masculinity). I’m seeking to portray a male sensuality and freedom of expression. I strongly believe that a “real man” is in touch with the full scope of his persona, especially his more passionate sensibilities. And lastly, including floral elements in the work is a small way to pay honor to a certain flower picking little boy.

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