Adhesive Love: An Intervention Into Masculinity

"Noel's work reflects this raw power of artwork to speak directly to inherited belief systems without the confusion of language."

Alex Noel’s Adhesive Love opens at the Rouge Gallery ( Eastern Edge), January 7, 7 to 9 pm.

Adhesive Love is a mixed media adventure 2 years in the making, and the first solo show for local artist/activist Alex Noel.

A graduate of Grenfell (BFA, Visual Arts), Noel is known to much of the radical community already for their work with the St. John’s Trans March, the Canadian Federation of Students, Western Pride NL events, and Camp Eclipse, an LGBT youth leadership camp.

It’s not Noel’s first art rodeo, however. They’ve won the 2015 BMO First Art! Award provincially for experimental work in cameraless photography, and participated in several group showings in Canada and the UK.

Figurative abstraction are the words Noel uses to characterize the style of the works on display, but this doesn’t even begin to describe them.

Pastel frenzies of  vague forms sliding in and out of larger abstractions, frenetic gangs in the idealized motions of sport, faceless …the works comes in candy colours or shades of grey, lulling one into a false sense of security. This is not a show about pretty pictures, though many are pretty. This is an “intervention into masculinity.”

The show’s title, Adhesive Love, comes from Walt Whitman’s Calamus poems, which tackle what is now generally  understood to be homoerotic subject matter, through the lightly veiled language of male bonding and the “manly love of comrades.”

Both in art and sport, a toxic version of masculinity dominates history. The idealized master of both is the white, cisgender, hyper-masculine male.

“This work deals with the covert homoeroticism within the world of sports and the visceral tensions between players on the field and in the locker room that are erased or redefined by the heterosexist culture of athletics” the artist’s statement explains.

Both art and sport are physical performances, and each require engagement with this rigid concept of masculinity. Noel hopes to “disrupt assumptions about masculinity and leisure” through their work and show the parallels between these two performances. “Resistance and rewriting” are key words here. The brush is in Noel’s hand now, and they will make the rules.

“In school they always told me to clean my brushes. I never clean my brushes — I would miss out on so many unique colours that I discover through using dirty brushes. I don’t mind if there are streaks of gray running through my red. Who wants to use colours straight from a tube? That’s boring,” Noel tells me.

Inspired by artist Cecily Brown, whose work flouts traditional wisdom about not overcrowding paintings, Noel’s images of groups of men in sport are deliberately busy, cramming the space with visual information.

“Art and activism are seamless processes for me. I give 100 % of myself when I’m making art, with no fear of how it will be received.” Noel further explains that in that way, art practice is one of the best forms of activism. Art is underfunded because it is powerful, and often challenges the status quo and ingrained power structures, we postulate.

Noel’s work reflects this raw power of artwork to speak directly to inherited belief systems without the confusion of language. “I have a compulsion to paint”, but equally to push the limits of painting.” Noel is diving deep and coming up with pearls.

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