Chasing Desire is at once two exhibits rolled into one. Beginning in the front room, large scale murals mingle with installations to create a seductively exuberant environment of male energy. I felt as if I had stepped into an impossibly sexy and gyrating gay bar of New York City’s former glory – the ones I have only ever read about that are for the most part extinct due to gentrification and cultural sterilization. Xavier Schipani’s murals display scenes of Adonis-like men of various ethnic hues playing games of tug-of-war and wrestling. The artist has intentionally left the faces blank on all his subjects, giving them an air of anonymity and allowing the viewer to unabashedly ogle these gorgeous, chiseled beings.
Object of Desire is one of the murals that fuses Schipani’s figures, in the act of wrestling, onto an ancient Greek amphora vessel in a version of Yves Klein blue. Putting his own spin on the vessel, the artist has amusingly added suggestively beaded handles as well as a pair of griffons depicted with campy, poodle cartoonesque fur. Similar to Michelangelo’s David, we are left to stare up at these grandiose men and lust after their athleticism and unspoken godliness but not much else – it’s an ode to the spectacularness of masculinity and hedonism.
Masculinity is a point of concern for Schipani who is Trans and exploring this world now as a man, but with sympathetic eyes once belonging to a woman.
Moving to the back of the room is where the real fun begins, in my opinion. Urinals and toilet stalls along with sinks and a long mirror have been installed with erotic murals interspersed on these objects. A sense of freedom is displayed by the figures as they are shown in a number of libidinous positions. It’s a gay orgy that is exhilarating and passionate but also somehow intimidating to me – as if I should be silently peeking from behind a door.
Leaving behind the dimensional flatness of these figures, the artist embarks on a divergent and uniquely humanizing journey in the other room of the exhibit with thirteen detailed portraits entitled, We’re Still Here. Schipani lines the walls of the room with these paintings creating a path for the viewer to follow and visually inhale the quirks of each sitter. These are his loving tributes to his “trans-cestors,” people he met while he was transitioning to a male.
Situated among these pale blue and white portraits is Self-Portrait which is the only painting in full color. The artist has placed himself amongst his loved ones, knowing he will be accepted and guided on his journey with their help. Finding acceptance is something humankind strives for in this thing called life, and Schipani is on his path trying to decipher what it is to be male in today’s world while trying to understand his place within it.
Xavier Schipani’s Chasing Desire can be viewed at the Lora Reynolds Gallery until September 1, 2018.