Steve Ralls

The Return of Men as Art

Filed By Steve Ralls | July 24, 2007 8:41 AM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: E. Gibbons, oil painting

Earlier this year, a friend and I decided to finally take the plunge and do something we had wanted to do for a long while: get a tattoo. And when I started to contemplate just what image or symbol I could live with having on my body for a good long while, it seemed clear that it had to be 'art' and it had to be 'me.' In the end, I had Michaelangelo's David placed on my back. It seemed like a natural choice to have the most beautiful man in Italy crawling all over me. And, it seems, there is a renaissance of sorts happening with the male form, with an innovative artist from New Jersey leading the way.

The Biblical passage I probably most agree with is from Genesis, which states that "Man was perfect, made in the image of God." Throughout early Catholic Europe, the words were taken to heart as (mostly gay) artists filled cathedrals, churches and public squares with stunning images of the male form. In stark contrast to the modern church, there was no shame or modesty about admiration of the human body. Beauty was a thing for public display.

Yet, during the past century, the correlation of man as art began to disappear. Robert Mapplethorpe ignited controversy when his most daring male images went on display. And even Annie Leibovitz began to do more and more photography with her subjects draped in regalia, rather than exposed in vulnerability and shadow. Art, and with it the male form, started to enter into the world of the burqa.

Mercifully, E. Gibbons, a striking artist from New Jersey, is helping to deliver us from the dark ages. Gibbons puts men in a box - literally - measuring 3 x 3 feet, then captures their image in luminous oil paintings that reverberate with the very spirit of Michelangelo. The result is astonishing. Gibbons exhibits an unwavering commitment to "reaffirming the power and sensuality of the male figure," and to allow "viewers [to] bring their own packages of prejudice and background to their experience of the work."

Gibbons' paintings, which are often displayed in groups, can transform their meaning by transplanting their pairings. As a recent press article about the artist noted, "Like the AIDS Quilt, a single painting can be touching and meaningful, but when seen with its counterparts, it takes on additional signficance. . . . A figure listening to a wall could be paired with a figure playing music, but would have a different context if paired with a figure weeping . . ."

In any pairing, the paintings provide whole new opportunities to re-consider the role of men and masculinity in art and the association of the male form with a wide array of emotions and associations.

If the world were ready for a post-modernist Sistine, Gibbons would be the perfect choice to adorn its ceiling. For now, though, his work will be a welcome adornation of gallery walls. His paintings (like the photographs of John Dugdale) may at last herald a return to the idea of men as art.

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I want to see the tattoo! You can't tease us by telling us about it and then not showing it! That's the point of getting a tattoo - showing it off! *grins*

Something else interesting on your thread... You don't see women as art anymore either really. It's as if the church and society in general has now shied away from the human body as a temple (art) and decided to instead push the idea of the human body as shameful. Sad, really.

Steve Ralls | July 24, 2007 12:37 PM

LOL - OK, OK! Here ya go. It's a little red here, as it's a photo taken just a few minutes after the tattoo was finished.

VERY cool! Just a brief bit of bilerico history... I have two tattoos - a Pink Panther on my right arm and a tribal anklet on my left ankle. Before was a blog, it was just my homepage (back when homepages were all the rage). I had pages on Gay Indiana, an author I like and a page on tattoos. The tattoo pages far and away got the most traffic. I redesigned the site and gave the tattoos more prominence and folks started sending me pics of their tattoos. I started posting them. And at one point, we were pretty much a tattoo site - and still get visitors from other tattoo sites that still haven't updated their links in the past ten years or so.

After a while I got bored with that too and let the site sit fallow for a while before starting a personal blog in 2004. The rest, as they say, is history.