SELFIE 2 SELF PORTRAIT: @PANOPTISTRY On Masculinity & Sexuality
Instagram as an artistic medium? I guess it’s a polarising debate. What transforms a selfie, click bait and ‘likes’ into works of art? In reality every high-brow art form had it’s time in the low art realm, and by injecting an unexpected sophistication these forms are developed. The selfie and classic portraiture have parallels. Rules that define form, colour and subject can be explored or flouted in the same way as sculpture and painting. So, what keeps Instagram art out of the curated gallery? Artistic snobbery? Elitism? Perhaps. Maybe the dogma that low art is for the masses sticks to selfie-based art, by its very nature it is elementally entwined with mass communication, but what if it contains a more indefinable quality? Something that only a small percentage of the viewership could understand, appreciate, and relate to?
“I shoot fantasy. If you want reality, ride the bus.” David LaChapelle
With a growing body of work championing body positivity, racial discourse and the questioning of masculine identity, James and Jaime, partners in an artistic and relationship sense, collaborate on a fantastical world where the normalcy of a row of terraced houses can be overlooked by a phantasmagoria of pop figures, steeped in queer culture, kitsch, colour, blackness and religion. Not so much of the duck face, or a grizzly squint to camera. If reality is a bus ride according to photographer David LaChapelle, then the mode of transport we take with this duo’s work is definitely and defiantly not on wheels. JAMES I’m a maximalist. Life in itself is quite minimal. I like art that takes the mundane, pedestrian aspects of life and presents them in a visually explosive way.
JAIME What makes you a man is more about your behaviour. It doesn’t necessarily matter what gender you identify as; I think it’s more about the way you behave and the way you treat other people.
JAMES Toxic masculinity. I’m uncomfortable with that term. We’ve been overwhelmed with hyper-masculinity and haven’t been able to express ourselves because “toxic masculinity” is so systemic.
JAMES Fortunately, growing up I was applauded for being artistic. But people have been shocked- although less to do with the display of effeminacy and more to do with the political undertones. The viewpoints that I take on things are a bit destabilising.
JAIME When I first came out to some of my family, they weren’t very accepting. But recently when I have been posting my work they respond differently. The way I dress, speak and act has changed, but it’s still me. It seems like such a dramatic change. If you have to lose friends to be authentic then so be it.
JAMES I’ve taken it for granted being a white man, that I view art with one particular lens. Over the past few years, I’ve had to undo a lot of those preconceptions and broaden my understanding and influences.
JAIME Male role models growing up? I find that hard to answer. Now as an adult I might be able to answer better.
JAMES In lockdown there’s increased pressure to be hyper-productive with this dreamlike, furlough we’re expected to finish books, produce documentaries, write scripts and I feel impeded by that. Creativity works best in an undisciplined way.
JAIME Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’, Burna Boy’s album ‘African Giant’ and Solange’s album ‘When I Get Home’ are artworks that changed me. Visually and musically they have boosted me to explore my masculinity, femininity, race. They made me feel so confident, almost invincible.
JAMES Sometimes the references in my work are conscious, often they’re not. A product of many years absorbing things then allowing that to come out creatively. In reference to ballroom culture, religious iconography, etc., I’m taking things that are not societally reviewed positively and recontextualising them. I enjoy the disjunction. It’s disquieting to those that have never challenged their gender identity by championing the masculine and feminine all of us have.
JAIME I’ve had friends reach out from primary school who I didn’t really speak to as much. They seem to appreciate that I’m being authentic and that is more rewarding than just doing it for me.
JAIME When I go home to Birmingham it’s so different. I feel like I have to dress down. There’s a pressure to not act differently. I might have to showcase a part of myself that I don’t necessarily want to in that particular moment. Although it’s getting better slowly, we’ve still got a long way to go.
James adjusts his black cap embroidered MCQ. And Jaime smiles at him. His self-proclaimed ‘botched’ hairstyle hidden from view. Maybe a badly executed, home-cut is one of the things that should exist solely in the domestic sphere, and stay out of the creative? This interview has certainly made us question what is and what should be. Check out @panoptistry to visit a whole world, when our own streets are currently off-limits. But, as Boris Johnson has warned us, don’t take the bus! And don’t take our word for it, you decide if it’s art and let us know why.
Words & Interview By @kieran_mcginn
Art By @panoptistry & jaaytait