CB1 Gallery is pleased to present our third solo exhibition of LA based artist Paul Donald. "Endymion Project" includes a group of objects and a related live performance and is inspired by the artist’s ambivalence in relation to heteronormative white masculinity, a norm he inhabits apparently but very uneasily. The exhibition is Donald’s answer to his question of how to bring focus to his unease without heroizing or aligning himself with the authority or even the victimhood sometimes now attached to white masculinity. Paul Donald: "Endymion Project" will be on view from January 9 through February 20, 2016. The gallery will host a performance and reception for the artist on Saturday, January 9, 2016, 3 – 6 p.m.
Donald’s question throughout his career as an artist has been how to bring focus to his unease without heroizing or aligning himself with the authority or even the victimhood sometimes now attached to white masculinity. Particularly today, an age of confusion over identities and pushback against those who wield power (aggressions he often applauds in their initial impulse if not in their violence), it seems crucially important to expose and question what it means to be a white man, particularly one perceived as heteronormative, from the inside of that position. His pressing problem then is: “how can I question a subject position that appears to be defined not so much by what it is, but by what it does, negatively at that, to others. How do I question my own subjectivity without pity?”
Terrified of exposing himself in public, Donald is also anxious about the power that accrues to his body as a source of white male privilege. The art world wants to avoid addressing this privilege—acting as if its disproportionate celebration of white male artists is not a problem. He wants to make work that unsettles this veiling of privilege and its connection to masculinity.
To this end, in "Endymion Project" the artist is driven to offer himself in an acutely vulnerable state to the audience. Revealing the male body of the artist, which has been consistently veiled in the history of Western art, other than for brief moments.
Donald found himself drawn to the figure of Endymion from Classical mythology, taken up with fervor by European painters in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and rendered as a sexualized object of desire. (In the myth, Endymion is an object of female desire; and yet in the plethora of paintings of a sexy, naked Endymion from this period, his languid figure is clearly offered up for the delectation of the male spectators who dominated the European viewing public at the time.)
As Abigail Solomon-Godeau has argued in "Male Trouble" (1999), paintings of Endymion as “effeminate ephebe,” numerous at the time, seemingly offered an excuse for homoerotic fantasies and homosocial narcissism that put men once again at the center not only of the act of painting but of looking and being the object of this desiring gaze. Solomon-Godeau exposes these circuits of desire, much as Donald hopes to do with the objects and performance comprising "Endymion Project," taking his fears and his discomfort at the privilege he has as a white man and running with rather than away from them. Instead of continuing to make art without questioning this privilege, Donald wants to dispassionately render up a spectacle of masculinity—in the form of his own body (both object and artist)— that places it in a position of vulnerability and offers it to the gazes of others. By laying himself out as a willing object and signifier, as scary as this act is for him, he hopes in the performance to create a productive confusion of categories since the white male artist rarely takes the risk of exposing himself, and almost never in a vulnerable way.
For example, in the performance works of Chris Burden and Vito Acconci from the 1970s they expose their bodies but through a verbal or situational aggression. Perhaps of the dominant artists working in the 1970s in the US only Paul McCarthy, relentlessly revealing and assaulting his own body in humiliating ways, queered or made vulnerable the white male body in the way he hopes to do. Epic exceptions in the current performance art world, such as queer S/M performance artist Ron Athey, have continued this willingness to be vulnerable and open to public view; but no artist Donald knows who seems to be a straight white male (whatever that means) has in recent years placed himself live in such a position of “aesthetic” vulnerability.
The performance is accompanied by painted objects that both celebrate and obscure the naked white male body, using the tropes of Romantic painting from the height of Endymion’s early nineteenth-century popularity. The billowing, Turner-esque swathes of paint covering the flat surfaces of these geode-like objects reveal figures of Endymion taken from the earlier paintings, scratched into the surface as if scrimshawed into whalebone. The backs of the objects are rough hewn from blocks of wood. But they are also beautiful things, which draw in the eye to look as well as the hand to touch. The nude male body becomes encapsulated as well as enhanced by these sensual objects, which put into parallel the desire for the body of the (male) artist with the desire for the work of art. Both are laid bare in the objects as well as through the performance.
Donald is a New Zealand born, Australian trained, Los Angeles based artist who works across the mediums of painting, sculpture, video and performance. He has lived and exhibited works in several countries including Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.