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The Anti-Spectacle

Do you just want to tell me about the show in general?


Sure. So I guess this is my second, third technically, solo show in the city. I’ve been making work about the figure and my personal life and experience basically since I started showing, and this was a departure from earlier shows in a couple ways—it was the first time I was able to show work in that big of a space, so the scale definitely changed, they became much larger, even though I identify as someone who makes small paintings because that’s sort of how I introduced myself to the city and that’s where I feel the most comfortable. But because of the increase in scale, I was able to increase the scope of the work, so instead of being mostly nudes and interiors, I felt like I had an opportunity to talk about the city at large and paint myself on the bridge or the skyline, and the Chrysler building, which I think is such a magical thing to look at. I just wanted to show an identity of New York, I think that I can be a pretty romantic person, and the work is about love and tenderness in ways and I wanted to extend that to the city also, or places specifically there. I also think that the work, I was just trying to open it up a little bit—there are some stranger images than what I’d shown before, like the painting of the seashell over the man’s groin, and of the angel writing a letter, just kind of wanting the setting of my work to expand a little bit.


I read in the New York Review of Books that you’d gone through a breakup—is that pertinent to the show?


I think so. But yeah, my work before in 2017 was all about that relationship, and mostly depicted me and him in our apartment and was definitely focused on these feelings of familiarity or comfort or love; and I think that my life just changed a little bit, and I was experiencing a wider range of emotional states in a way, and I was interested in trying to talk about them a bit more. I like that the review said the show had a feeling of ‘charged solitude,’ I think that definitely was what I was feeling the past couple months. But it was exciting, too, as a 25-year-old in New York, it was kind of a time to experience what most people were, which was figuring themselves out for themselves and not necessarily being in a long-term, committed relationship, which most of my friends weren’t.


It’s funny too with gay guys, I feel like we’re either one or the other, I have a friend who’s such a relationship-type and I’m just not, I just feel like in the gay world there are two different types, there’s the relationship type and then there’s the doesn’t give a shit, hookup type. Would you agree with that?


I think that’s true. When I first moved here, you notice that sort of thing, or that there’s ways of having a relationship that I started to learn about when I moved here in 2016 and wasn’t necessarily what my parents did or what I was exposed to growing up in Southern Maryland.


Above: 'Star Nude' and 'Angel Writing A Letter'


So you’re new to the city as well?


In some ways, yeah, I feel like so much of my adult life has developed here that I feel like I’ve been here forever but it’s only been since 2016, before that I went to school in Baltimore, and then I lived in Berlin for a year on a Fulbright grant. But yeah, that feels like a really long time still. I think because when you go through certain things, too, you close a chapter in your life, it sort of makes it feel really far away, or that it belongs to one period that is now over. So I guess this is my third chapter show.


Why do you think people respond to it so much? What is it about it that touches people, in your opinion?


Someone said something really sweet to me—I had this open studios at this residency I’m at, and this older woman was saying that I don’t have any way of knowing how long people have been waiting to see this work, which I thought was a really generous thing to say, and hopefully it’s true that, I guess in some way I hope that it’s one of the first times these kind of images are being represented in full color. There’s a lot of work from history about gay love between men that have been made but were not made for the public eye, and was made in such a different climate than we exist in. I guess there’s a novelty to it. I don’t know, exactly. Most painters that I love just paint what they love, and people respond to that, I think.

I guess that’s kind of the long and the short of it, yeah. It’s so honest. 


I hope so, yeah. I think that’s a good place to make work from—just what do you like or what are you occupied by. 9 So you’re occupied by sexuality and intimacy in this moment. Yeah, and I think most people are. Sometimes people ask me, ‘Why the subject matter?’ and to me, it’s just like, ‘What the hell are you thinking about?’ It’s drives so much of what everybody does, you know?


Yeah, it does. And people don’t want to admit it.


I think it’s a beautiful thing. There’s a lot to develop right there.


And I find it to be a shift in our culture at large, even as something that office magazine represents, too, is sort of this honest look at sexuality as a part of life and embracing it as something beautiful and not sinful or gross.


For me, I’d like to make the point too, that it’s not even this other, it’s so day-to-day actually, in some ways.

Sometimes people ask me, ‘Why the subject matter?’ and to me, it’s just like, ‘What the hell are you thinking about?’


Above: 'Early Spring' and 'Jamie'


Right, it’s an every day thing.


And that’s the anti-spectacle of it that’s beautiful too, is that it’s not always this sort of production. I feel like the ways it exists in society can be so unrealistic.


Or just in culture, in movies or art, the way sex is treated.


Definitely. So I guess, too, the reason people respond to my work, is there does feel like there’s a bit of a void or space where sex, gay sex particularly, isn’t always afforded a space to be talked about that way.


Right, like as something beautiful and elegant.


Yeah, or treated with as much dignity, but also with just the frankness that it deserves.


I love the idea of it being a daily thing, too—especially in New York, we’re around so many people, it’s just this charged energy.


Right, you get on the subway and it’s like, whoa.


Especially in the summer.


You see people for the first time, like actually.


People come out of their shell, it’s like well, hello. So where in the city to do you live?


I live in Williamsburg. My studio is in DUMBO. I think that affected the work, too. I’m on this residency where I’m right on the water, and my view is of the Manhattan Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, over the river, it’s really stunning, it’s amazing to be able to look at it every day and really feel yourself here in the city, not in some basement somewhere. I think painters are always look backwards, too, at least the paintings I love reference art history, and the idea of New York painting is so romantic and powerful. That was a big part of wanting to be this New York thing, too.


Like New York is a character or an intimate partner as well. Especially since you’re so fresh here.


I think anyone new here wants to love it. It’s hard to be here, too, so I think you have to make a conscious effort sometimes, like, ‘No this is good, this is special.’

'The Manhattan Bridge'
'Kissing Couple'
'Blowjob and Moon'
'I keep my treasure in my ass'
'Mom Trying on Velvet Dress'
'The Williamsburg Bridge'

Hurry! 'Come Softly To Me' closes on May 24th, 2019 - see it at Sikkema Jenkins ASAP. Lead image: 'Me and Ray'.

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