Liverpudlian artist James Unsworth’s collages are an explosive exaltation of the beautifully nonconforming male body and homoeroticism. Large men gaze out seductively from behind bright carnations or engage in erotic acts slightly censored by sunny yellow daffodils. Drawing on Girth and Mirth, a gay subculture promoting body positivity and fat fetishism, Unsworth collides pages from Bulk Male magazine with flowers and vegetables from gardening books found in local charity shops. “The old ladies who volunteer there must think I’m really into gardening,” he jokes.
“There are definitely enough artists using stereotypical muscled beefcake type models in their work”
Exhibited in Newcastle’s Abject Gallery and Tel Aviv’s RawArt Gallery alongside drawings from the magazine, Unsworth’s images confront viewers with ideals of male beauty marginalized by both wider society and mainstream gay culture. “There are definitely enough artists using stereotypical muscled beefcake type models in their work and I’m not interested in adding to that body fascism and all the bullshit it perpetuates in our community,” he says.
Unsworth recognizes Girth and Mirth’s analogies with the carnivalesque, noting that “in these subcultures there’s a reinvention of accepted hierarchies that are separate from mainstream values, and queer social culture in general can often appear to operate as a constant orgiastic carnival of various fun excesses”.
“I’m looking at opposites with regard to representations of masculinity and femininity, mixing both in the same way that the grotesque combines horror and humour,” Unsworth explains. Indeed, the works are complicated by flowers’ connotations with homophobic slurs. Yet they remain unabashedly celebratory. “The best reactions are when people are confronted for the very first time with the idea that fat bodies can be sexy, desired and desirable.”