How a generation of artists is fusing club culture with traditional craftsmanship for a new queer aesthetic


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Artist Trevon Latin used to hide his textile paintings from his teachers when he was a student at the University of Houston. At the time, he believed that fabric would not be welcome as a material in studio practice.

Last week he opened his first personal exhibition paintings and sculptures made with sequined fabrics and textiles found at Perrotin. “This work is 100% me,” he said, standing between his sculptures of mythological figures embodied in lush textured fabrics, as well as sequins, tassels and jewelry. “I am building my own mythology, so the earth doesn’t have to be green or the sky blue.”

Latin is part of a wave of contemporary queer artists who are revolutionizing different forms of craftsmanship and, in doing so, overturning traditional notions of gender, hierarchy and work. Sewing, beading, tiling and other practices long underestimated are now freed from stigma as they find more and more place in institutional collections and white cubes, like Perrotin, who offered Latin his solo debut after showing his work in their Yale online. thesis show last summer.

When Latin began his Masters in Fine Arts, portraiture was central to his practice. Today, he channels his traditional knowledge and inspirations into stitched paintings. “I always look at John Singer Sargent’s colors and sew a painting from back to front,” he said. Besides the Impressionists, the nightlife also had a critical impact on its visual language. The unwavering dynamism of the club scene proved the artist the potential of his skills. Making her own masks and costumes for the dance floors taught her how to tell a story with fabrics.

The show came to fruition during a five-month tailoring process. Entitled ‘Trinket Eater’, it features 18 pieces woven with found materials that date back a decade. “This tarp is from a walk I took on my college campus in Houston,” he said, pointing to one of the works stretched out on a circular panel. His subjects range from classmates to characters in Scandinavian folklore, and even himself. “There are many variations of myself here, boy or girl,” he said.

From a child sewing outfits for his action figures to an artist exhibiting international power, Latin has always reached out to fabrics for self-expression. “I just needed to find my right color of fabrics and sew my stories on the three dimensional surface.”

Raul de Nieves, The fable (2021). Courtesy of the artist and The Company Gallery, New York. © Raul de Nieves.

Find your own vocabulary

While fabrics have made Latin an author of its own universe, pearls have a transformative power for Raúl de Nieves.

The artist’s cheerful beadwork sculptures gloriously interrupted the immaculate aesthetic codes dominant in contemporary sculpture after being included in MoMA PS1’s investigation of Greater New York in 2015 and the Whitney Biennial in 2017. The artist has started making beads in high school and continued to attend, then dropped out of California College of the Arts. “Just like the pearls, things had to pile up,” he said. Shoe with a broken heel or a full-size horse rearing up, the objects he encrusted with pearls cross different worlds. “Putting on that last bead is a moment of revelation.”

Similar to a painter’s brushstrokes on canvas, de Nieves covers its surfaces with colored beads of an impossible density – “No stain left uncovered!” This repetitiveness indeed offers the artist a territory for self-exploration. “The world is full of impossibilities, so why not take on an endeavor that seems impossible?” He asked.

De Nieves is currently working on a solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston in September titled “The treasure of memory. “Two human figures, one entirely beaded in white and the other in black, will have rainbow spurts escaping from their stomachs.“ A gay astral projection, ”he reflected on its habit of assigning intrepid loads of queerness in institutional contexts.

Raul de Nieves. Photo: Rafael Martinez.

Growing up in Michoacán, Mexico, de Nieves has witnessed the transmission of pearls and other craft traditions between generations. His late father was known as the city’s master leatherworker, while his grandfather was a sign painter. “Time pushes you to do something you were born to do and you are slowly building a vocabulary for it,” he said. After moving to the United States as a child in 1993, de Nieves gradually learned to express his gay identity through beadwork. “Queerness is not to conform, but beauty is to develop a language with the self-awareness of one’s identity. “

The performance and club scenes are also pivotal for de Nieves, whose former studio was located under Bushwick’s beloved queer club, Spectrum. “The curators who visited my studio loved hearing about the party the day before,” he said with a laugh. “The nightlife has shown me respect for myself.”

It also looks at the garment and the volume of classical painting. “I also try to create movement through volume. Over the years, he has perfected creating waves of texture and color through inflated bead configurations. His exhibition at ICA Boston will also include a huge tapestry made of Xerox cutouts, personal photographs and pieces of Paul Klee postcards from the Guggenheim gift shop. “It’s about using whatever is in hand – doing with it has always been a part of queer artists. “

The metamorphic gesture in the work of de Nieves, Latin and other artists is, in fact, odd in nature. The anarchism inherent in a nonconforming aesthetic finds its power in challenging the status quo. The desire to build alternate realities within a heteronormative order has long driven artists to dismantle norms and rebuild worlds. Injecting craftsmanship into the sterility of great art not only shatters current optical codes of refinement, but also gives visibility to age-old techniques that have long been practiced in the isolation of salons or factories.

Interfaith ficus, Adam Charlap Hyman Commission (2021).

Dismantle the old distinctions

Material commitment is also in order for the artist duo Ficus Interfaith, composed of Ryan Bush and Raphael Martinez Cohen. After meeting in the painting department of the Rhode Island School of Design six years ago, they “dive into the dark” to find a material that could meet their desire to create hybrids of painting and sculpture. .

The gentle fatherhood of Felix Gonzales-Torres and folk art were initial inspirations. “We wanted to marry craftsmanship with a conceptual approach, which gives the impression that the idea trumps craftsmanship,” they said. Terrazzo was the answer, and the duo quickly learned to tile their backyard.

Terrazzo dates back to the Neolithic Age, but its resonance as a decorative accent in post-industrial America is what drew artists to the practice. “Art is defined as revelation, while producing something is seen as craftsmanship – it is a distinction that we are trying to dismantle.” They like to observe people’s reactions when they find out that they are doing the job themselves. “Imagine baking a cake, you never know how it will come out every time,” one says, but the other adds, “But it’s a cake we’ve made so many times, so even mistakes are made. . “

A difficult mystery to maintain in our digital age, but for them, anonymity is part of their statement. “The work comes from our third identity,” they said.

The couple got their professional name Ficus Interfaith from the fig tree genre and the allure of spirituality (which some may consider the antithesis of biology). Terrazzo, made up of pieces of glass, marble or granite, attracts artists for its promise of permanence. But the material also contains fluidity: a cement-like binder is poured over the chips to keep the pattern in place.

Interfaith ficus, The diver (after Rockwell Kent) (2020).

For their most recent exhibition at the Deli Gallery, the artists appropriated images by advertising illustrator Rockwell Kent, which he designed for transport companies in the 1930s, a time when terrazzo was a frequent feature of hotel lobbies and federal buildings. And at a group show at PPOW last summer, they displayed a Rauschenberg-style American flag over 15 feet wide, made up of countless broken pieces. The artists say they see a parallel between queerness and the rendering of icons in stone: “Aesthetics and craftsmanship are both feminized characteristics.

Artists intentionally seek out disparate and often iconic forms of imagery to contemplate the queer aesthetic. Take the duo Instagram account for example. Videos of beefy brotherhood boys in unintentionally homoerotic acts and images of architectural marvels stand alongside process shots of their studio or a freshly finished commissioned room. They see the account as a collective moodboard and a documentation site.

“Showing homosocial behavior on the same platform as history, archeology or anthropology speaks to our intention to decentralize homosexuality,” they said.

The pair work both in traditional gallery spaces and on design commissions. Seeing their work in a domestic setting breaks the hierarchy between decoration and fine arts. “At the end of the day,” they said, “terrazzo is a floor material that you have to walk on.”

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