KEZIA DAVIES TALKS TO ART AWARDS FINALIST GAVIN MAUGHFLING
Tell us a bit about yourself and your practice
I’m primarily a painter, though I also make films – at the moment I’m editing a film which is loosely about some quite complex ideas of LGBT+ friendships, and inter-generational conversations, and the ways in which queer knowledge and wisdom and history get passed on across time and from mouth to mouth. My paintings have always been figurative; my source material is nearly always imagery that I’ve culled or stumbled across on the Web – photos, film, vlogs, webcams, Instagram. I always work in series, and at the start of each body of work I generally write a lot, to work out what I’m after – so subject matter is very important to my work, even when this subject matter is complex or ambiguous or multi-layered in its potential readings. Most though certainly not all of my works are in some way explorations of queer identity.
Most recently I’ve been pre-occupied with a series of paintings (including the one in this show) that are based on current gay vlogs on YouTube and their related Instagram accounts. In these paintings I’ve been roaming over a whole load of related ideas. Some of these I’ve already touched on (the support of friendship, the sharing of queer experience), and they also include themes such as the exploration of multiple identities, including transgressive ones. These elements have always been there in queer life of course. But what has awed me beyond words I could find, and made me feel at the same time a retrospective sense of an emotional gap in my younger self growing up queer in small country town in the 70’s, is these young men’s easy ability to share their experiences, of racism and racial heritage, prejudice, religion, sex, first affairs, the unreliability or strength of friends and lovers, and to gain strength and support from their sharing.
But there is something more still. These vlogs and Instagram accounts are broadcast to a large and appreciative audience of followers. Explorations once carried out alone behind closed bedroom doors are now sent out there into the public domain. These YouTube channels perform I think a huge social role, and their creators are role models. When I was kid there was one queer book – a collection of gay short stories – in the one bookshop in the town I grew up in – and I bought it and hid it. Now, experimentations with multiple possible identities (and this touches on the theme of this show) can be shared with others.
What made you decide to apply for this year’s Winter Pride Art Awards?
The paintings I’m making at the moment from vlogs, and the film which has come out of it, are really important to me – they hold ideas I really want to communicate. So I want to show them to as wide an audience as I can. The Winter Pride awards and the venue at The House of St Barnabas afford a brilliant opportunity to be able do this.
Why do you think it’s important that art is used to open up the discussion around LGBT+ issues and how do you think your practice interacts with these issues?
I think this is, for me, in part a question about audience, and also a question about medium or visual language. To look first at audience, I’ve already described how the vlogs and Instagram accounts I’ve been exploring set up interactions and dialogues with their followers, creating online communities. I want to communicate my own responses and feelings about this subject, the ones I’ve outlined above, with the audiences that I can reach, through the art I make in painting and film. There’s perhaps an element of subversion in this: despite all the advances that have been won, we’re still not fully visible in what is called the art world, in all our diversities.
Ultimately, and this is the next step for me, I’d like if I can to be part of setting in motion some bringing together of these worlds, a dialogue across worlds and between generations. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this, but I’d like to try.
And then in terms of medium or language – what perhaps I think ‘art’ can do that is different: I think the art languages that I choose to use operate at a different, slower pace. I think art (if we are talking about art that is validated by the art world ) often struggles with how to interact with online media. Often it kind of throws up its hands and says “There’s so much of it!” and so you get banks of monitors in an art gallery showing different channels all playing different image streams at the same time, a kind of cacophony of communication, all ephemeral, all to be sampled or snacked on and then passed over. I think art can instead more usefully slow things down, so that you can see the detail, the gaps between words and images, the exchanged looks and shifts of body language that can too easily be rushed over. You can spend time with a painting, if it’s good enough (or a good film). In this way, art can offer a space, a gap in all the noise. And art can celebrate.
Can you tell us a little about the piece you’re exhibiting in reference to this year’s theme of ‘Beyond the Binaries’?
Yes. It’s really a painting about queer friendship, and also about experimentation with transgressions against conventionally gendered images. The two men in the paintings are two of the vloggers I’ve been talking about. They are friends, and they are in the club Bootylicious from which the painting takes its name. The piece is based on an Instagram photo, and so it works differently from the YouTube stills which are the starting point for other paintings in the series. Those other images are freeze-frames, in which I am looking for what happens in the gaps and under the surface. For an Instagram portrait or selfie , you have to pose of course. I think this posing brings in other elements, such as anxiety, pride and defiance. I was interested in these different, apparently conflicting emotions, simultaneously present, while I was making this painting.