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Greg Siler's Gallery Talk

During the opening reception of the show Greg Siler presented these thoughts on the theme of the show:

Gender and Sexuality, 2017
Could there be a more challenging and thought provoking theme?!  I don't think it could be overstated just how much our personal identity, our sense of self, is tied to our gender and sexuality. Personally, I'm beginning to think more directly about how it is that my own subjectivity is formed. As an artist I'm heavily invested in active looking. One question I often think about is this: Is vision itself, as coded by Western cultural ideals, gendered? I feel certain that the very things I'm drawn to as a heterosexual male are to varying degrees due to cultural "visual codes" working on me. We like to imagine that the deepest inner aspect of who we are is somehow set apart from the rest of the world, a distinct entity unto itself. But I think about images that we produce as representing not just the individual(s) that made them, but as indicating the broader cultural values of when and where we are. Often, people will ask what a particular image is "about". But, to a large extent, I think about the cultural and psychological mechanisms at work as I look in order to paint.
 
With this in mind I'd like to share a few thoughts that I hope will be of interest as you think about the things you see here tonight. When I look at Carl's and my work together, I'm struck by what's here and, conversely, what's not here:
 
1.  Carl and I are both male. The majority of the images are of nudes, both male and female, but all are seen and imagined by men. This is in direct line with the whole of art history.
2. Only one painting represents a figure overtly returning the viewers gaze - Carl's man in a mask. This is significant to me because I think on another level all of the other images are looking back at us as well. Images reflect the complications of who we are. The S&M mask reminds me that I often wonder if representation (either in an outward form or in our own minds) is itself a kind of violence; it being a conceptulized version of self and world that we feel the need to negate, or suspend, through transgressive behaviors.
3. There are quite a few penises on display here tonight. Most are in Carl's work but one is in mine, a figure that also has breasts. Carl's paintings of women seem to me somwhat ambiguous, as they have rather muscular builds. There are no explicit representations of vaginas.
4. Voyerurism is made explicit in the "peep boxes". "Peep" show typically brings to mind men looking at women. The "window" of the peep boxes repeats the shape and function of the rectilinear picture plane. As a culture, we're very comfortable with watching others from a distance in video, TV, movie or picture form. The switch on the peep boxes turns on their only light source. Light and your participation make seeing the penis possible. Because of the necessity of light for optics generally, we also feel it to represent conceptual clarity. In response to this, when painting I often think of light as being behind a form, obscuring or dissolving it rather than illuminating it for viewing. In the peep boxes, what is illuminated surprises and confronts us in a more directed way than in the majority of the other paintings, with the possible exceptions of Carl's masked man and my painting "With Western Eyes".
5. Traditionally, images have been the visual constructs of men. Our masculine vision has been largely imagined as directed, clear, abstract, ordered and skyward in inclination. For example, we might refer to God as "Father" while referring to nature as "Mother". The feminine is largely connected with the earthbound, both as the projected form of ideal beauty and the earthly forces that men often fear and/or don't understand. Carl's paintings approach the figure as landscape. He paints with a relative freedom of gesture, trying to be as unrestricted as possible while maintaining cohesion. My work is much more ordered, but with (often subtle) attempts to undermine full resolution. Although different in methodology, perhaps in both there is a kind of mourning for the loss of the feminine, or at least a yearning for more balance - away from the conceptually crystalline.
 
For me, the individual objects in this show don't represent a finished statement on such things so much as moments within a process. They don't declare truths but set in motion the interplay of image, physical materials and the subjectivity of the body outside of the work. They strive to energize the visible rather than capitulate to a distancing regard. At its best, this is the moment when meaning is not a fixed concept but a dynamic, live experience.