Can a white man create self-flagellating masculine artwork from the point of view of feminism? Yes, just look at the work of John Currin and you’ll see that not only is his work feminist but also quite audacious. As a response to the #MeToo movement, he responded by a collection of pieces titled, ‘My Life as a Man’ which is being touted as “one of the most refreshing and curious things about the art show is that Currin has been painting men and making a commentary about a particular type of masculinity throughout his career.”
It’s being described as the inversion of the “Playboy”
Depicting the stereotypical attractive male, like ‘the cheerful golfer, sultry tennis pro, handsome sailor, beach cookout bros, playful ranchers’, he is turning them into objects of horror rather than of desire. What can only be described as an inversion of the “Playboy”, the women around such men are revolted, under duress, horrified, scornful and annoyed. “The inversion of these Playboy advertisements is so successful because it shifts the gaze, and thus the power, from the smiling, smirking men to the women who were meant to be ornaments of male desire. It also highlights the violence involved in these sexual fantasies, which reasserts the importance of consent. And the horror is, what if these women never consented? What if men never bothered to ask?” Interestingly, Currin is one of the few white-male artists who have tacked such a topic and has painted both men and women side by side. Not only is it pleasantly surprising, but he does it so convincingly that one would think that it was painted by a woman.
It is an honest portrayal of the average white middle-class man
He also tackles many problems of conventional masculinity, where the pride of men is seen in their youth and virility and his paintings also depict men who are not macho and how there is a disconnect between “their projected self-image and who they really are.” Dallas News writes, “It is hard not to feel a little sad for Currin’s men. It is a rare and honest depiction of white middle- to upper-middle-class masculinity that is slipping. One has to wonder about the world that these men have lived in, one in which their power and existence weren’t always earned.” On the other hand, many people have noted that they feel sorry for them men in Currin’s paintings because it is an honest portrayal of the average white middle-class man and how their traditional masculinity is slipping from their hands. Today, the curtain is being lifted and Currin reveals that “I don’t think I’m a painter of male power. I think when I paint men, it’s in order to make a beautiful painting of weakness.”
Image credit: Dallas Morning News