Exhibited at Emerge Art Space – Highgate, WA. 18 Oct – 10 Nov 2006
Looking at him is an investigation into masculinity. Mel Dare discusses masculinity with 5 male friends; asking how they would like theirs to be portrayed. The paintings are the results.
When I began painting for this exhibition I had a very specific goal in mind. I have been interested in constructions of masculinity for a while, and wanted to paint a figurative exhibition that explored a number of male models’ relation to and understanding of their own bodies, and the way they experienced their masculinity. And I wanted to do so in a way that emphasized a level of trust and empathy. The paintings would be primarily about the model; they decided how to pose, they took the lead, I merely tried to record what they were telling me.
There were a couple of surprises along the way. Firstly, since these models were mostly people I know well, the way in which they either saw their own body, or the way they wanted to be represented, was surprising. In nearly every case it was not what I would have expected and was quite different to how I saw them. Secondly, it became increasingly apparent, as I wrestled with trying to understand how they wanted to be, that this process was far more about me then I perhaps wanted to admit at the beginning. What became obvious was that I was trying to articulate something about my own negotiation with masculinity.
This should perhaps have been obvious from the start; while most of the reading I had done about masculinity assumed from the outset that it was something men deal with, it became clear to me that, as a woman, masculinity is something I negotiate every day. But I am wary of a reading that jumps too quickly to a statement like ‘gender is fluid’; I don’t think that my imposition of myself in these paintings necessarily means that the space between painter/model is blurred in any real sense. If anything I think the divide of sexual difference has been brought into sharper relief in these works. There has been something insurmountable in representing these subjects, a sense of struggle that I now want to foreground for the viewer. In one brief statement, I think the works are productively viewed in terms of an irreducible tension between a portrait and a self-portrait. – Mel Dare 2015