The Masculine Potential
For this month’s guest blog, xYg asked artist Peter Bradley to talk about what gender expression means to him and how he explores it in his work. Here’s what he said. Useful explanations of some of the terminology used by Peter can be found at the end of the post.
I have been obsessed with gender appropriation from a young age. For one reason or another growing up I never felt entirely comfortable expressing myself freely and to a certain point there was an element of shame associated with identifying more with stereotypical femininity than masculinity. My artistic research and practice has helped me to gain a much deeper understanding of identity and gender expression has come to be very important to me. Having my eyes opened to the fact that everything I once knew to be true about what is expected from me as a man is a fabrication that has been handed down to me through generations has been a significant turning point and development for me both as an artist and an individual.
My first exploration of gender through portraiture was with a project called ‘Sugar, Spice, and puppy dogs’ tails…..’ which involved an investigation of androgyny and gender ambiguity. The view of gender as a personal compilation of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ attributes is something that I have always found fascinating and empowering. At the RDS student art awards 2013 I won the R.C. Lewis Crosby award for painting with ‘The Warrior’.
The painting features an androgynous, long haired figure which perfectly symbolises the exploration of alternative gender presentations that had been central to my practice for the previous few years. The fact that an image like this was appreciated not only by a panel of judges at the RDS but by the public has been pivotal in my development as an artist and incentive to further research a topic I find so interesting and important.
While my practice is still very much an analysis of alternative gender expression, I have more recently become interested in exploring ways in which everybody expresses their gender identity. I have come to think of one’s gender identity as their ‘soul’. Not in the religious sense, more so that while your physical sex is represented by your body, your gender is who you are on the inside. How we dress, how we do our hair, make-up, tattoos, and piercings are all ways in which we alter our outward selves in order to reflect who we really are. My most recent collection ‘Praxis’, which I presented for my degree show is an amalgamation of all these questions I have had about gender or my own gender identity. It is an examination of the diversity of gender as a practiced and performed social construct while also confronting our habitual conflation of sex, gender, and sexuality.
Having engaged extensively with a number of subjects through conversation, photography, drawing, and painting the result has been a more profound insight into the complexity of gender presentation which in turn has supported the physical and psychological fabrication of a series of gender identity portraits. This collection is an analysis of gender appropriation, an investigation into identity presentation between and beyond the gender binary. Particular attention is paid to the evolution of modern masculinity and the increasingly widespread acceptance that what makes you male is not what makes you a man. While this project is a celebration of those who have the courage to express who they are in one way or another without inhibition, it is at the same time an investigation of self-expression.
“every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself.”
~ Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
I don’t necessarily think people will immediately consider that the work is about gender when they first see it. All I hope is that conversations around gender identity and gender appropriation may evolve after people view these works, questioning their own ideas of gender. Apart from my need to physically work with paint, that is my main motivation for doing what I do.
– Peter Bradley, Artist
Glossary of terminology
Gender appropriation: The idea that the gender you are born with determines the person you should become, including interests and attributes which are appropriate for your gender. For example when a baby is born it is either wrapped in a blue or pink blanket. The blue babies grow to play with trucks, enjoy sports, and rarely show emotion while the pink babies grow up to play with dolls and enjoy flowers and pretty dresses.
Androgyny: The strong presence of both masculine and feminine attributes. Stemming from the Greek (anér, andr-, meaning man) and γυνή (gunē, gyné, meaning woman).
Gender Ambiguity: An individual who appears as either a mix of both male or female, or neither.
Social Construct: An idea or notion that appears to be natural and is accepted by society but in reality it is an invention of society passed down through generations, reinforced by repetition.