I am making abstract-figurative paintings in which simplified nude male figures are looped, coiled and compressed in scenes of both intimacy and isolation. This resulting narrative situates tenderness and passion within the oversimplified social-sexual environment queer people currently inhabit. Apps like Grindr, Tinder, and Scruff have become powerful tools for socialization, dating, and sex in the queer community. Interaction on these apps can tend towards a type of immediacy and emotional distance that is largely new and specific to our moment. My work explores the psychology of this space as both a participant and observer of it. My objective is to prompt a dialogue with an audience about this space. I am not making proclamations or value judgments about contemporary gay life, but rather trying to initiate a conversation about it.
I start by making a drawing that I recreate, simplify, and compositionally refine on paper. This iterative paring-down of scenes and figures creates an aesthetic which mirrors the reduction and simplification my work comments upon. The picture is composed exclusively of basic lines, curves and gradients. Figures and compositions are as much imagined as they are derived from lived experience. The figures are identifiable humans in a space, but rendered imprecisely enough to be anybody, anywhere. The picture is made not with an interest in being descriptive about its subjects, but rather creating a feeling: passion, love, loneliness, alienation, etc. This feeling is what initiates the dialogue, and as a result I feel a sense of clarity and understanding that I’ve never had. I am directly engaging with my own issues of queerness in these works; both opening myself up to criticism from, and finding common ground with my peers.
Justin Liam O’Brien - December 2018