Martin Swift is a Washington, DC based painter who creates very realistic yet magical works that study gender, sexuality, and the performance of the two. They’re a bit ridiculous too as they try to understand intangible subjects often seen as too abstract to grasp. Thus, the resulting paintings are a swirl of activity that make everything delightfully ambiguous.
He has a series called Paradox Of Masculinity which takes various styles of men—from tattooed burly bros to skinny andros—and placing them within contexts that play against type. A giant man grope both a bowling ball and a cigarette while a waifish dude’s long locks obscure the fact that he’s a he. These men are curvy and cut, girlish yet guyish, painted in as if fading into a dark velvet painting or posed in pretty pastels.
These paintings might otherwise be ridiculous if it weren’t for Swift’s competence in realism. These men that we’ve all seen and know, guys who are are overly familiar, are presented to us as nude and vulnerable bodies. They aren’t powerful but instead pretty, objects for us to desire and project ourselves forward or away from. Moreover, the “pretty” versions are so ridiculous that you almost can’t imagine that these people—Well, models.—stood in for this stuff.
So what does all this say about masculinity? It’s a joke. It’s not real, something that has to be broken down and broken apart. Or, it’s something that we all present differently. It isn’t something easily explained or defined—or at least it shouldn’t be. This is the paradox. Masculinity is changing.