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MANHANDLE: a solo show: Pro Gallery


a solo show by Nathan D. Manna 
winner of the 2021 Reardon Medal at the College of the Holy Cross, juried by Lauren Szumita

Please direct all purchase inquiries to Nathan.

Artist Statement

Throughout history, there has been a strong connection between gay men and flowers. This connection has existed since, at least, ancient Greece, and has been built upon by each successive generation. In ancient Greece, a common mythic trope would be for the male lovers of gods to be transformed into flowers upon their (most likely tragic) passing: Hyacinthus became the hyacinth after being struck by a discus, Narcissus was turned into the narcissus, Adonis into a poppy, and so forth. Then in 16th century Italy, Caravaggio, and his contemporaries painted sensual paintings like “Boy with a Basket of Fruit and Flowers” that connected the sensual male form with nature and the wild. In the same century, in France, an effeminate man was called a pensée, which was translated into English as the pansy. Then sometime in 19th century England, a gay man was known derogatively as a fairy due to his flamboyant and effervescent nature. In the 20th century, Robert Mapplethorpe became well-known for his highly erotic photographs of men and flowers and his treatment of each was based on a stylized classical aesthetic valuing form and shape over all else.

The flowers chosen for this series come from this shared history of floral iconography, symbolism, and myth. In creating these works I wanted to create a lush, paradisal, sensuality—my own Garden of Eden. I do this through combining through collage and the combining of bodies and flowers together. In one piece, two white Narcissus’ merge with a man draped in white and references ideas of ancient Greece, and the Renaissance’s interest in male beauty and classicism. In another work, a hand grasps a bouquet in front of another man and becomes a reference to sex. Through the merging of flower and body, a second theme emerges dealing with revealing and concealing, modesty and the nude, coming out of the closet, and not being out. It also creates a discussion on how gay male sexuality is often hidden when gay men are discussed in mainstream media.

In media, the gay character is typically devoid of sex and sensuality and is often used as a sassy comic character meant to boost the ego of the female protagonist. On the other end of the spectrum if a character does have a sexual life it is often shown as deviant or perverse. These caricatures are far from the truth and my work seeks to unpack that. In her song “Sex Yeah”, MARINA sings that “If women were religiously/ Recognized sexually/ We wouldn’t have to feel the need/ To show our ass to feel free.” The experience MARINA is referencing is a reclamation of sexual agency and is a core theme to my work. It’s hypersexual, hyper-intimate, and hyper-desirous because that is what has been denied to us for centuries.

While these pieces have a complex historical and theoretical framework to them, the actual construction of these pieces is based purely on an internal aesthetic instinct and involves very little planning beyond choosing the imagery. I’m drawn to collage as a medium because I can freely take from a multitude of images and create a whole new image that has an immediacy and presence that isn’t afforded other art forms. Traditionally, when viewing a photograph, the image is grounded in reality but with collage, I’m able to invert that and create fantastical scenes and compositions.

For this body of work, I started with roughly 800 pages of imagery and then selected imagery that resonated from that collection. I then set out to work cutting out and piecing the works together. First selecting a body, and then the flowers, each work becomes woven together as each piece interacts with the pieces surrounding it. My primary criteria for creating these works were the shapes of the bodies and flowers, gestures within each image and as they were combined with others, their colors, and tonalities, and the overarching composition. Once the piece resonates with me, and feels done, I then glue the pieces together carefully to preserve the intricate interactions between the pieces.

In the early gay rights movement as activists picketed across America organizers discouraged them from engaging in any type of public displays of affection. They wanted heterosexual America to see the LGBTQIA+ community as normal, boring and assimilated into middle-class society. The truth is far from that though. This show is a direct reclamation, and declaration, that queer love is not only okay but beautiful.

MANHANDLE: a solo show: About
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