Jose Pedro Godoy ___

Jose Pedro Godoy, “The Boys” (2013) (All images courtesy White Box)

Do you know Adonis? He’s not like those other male nudes that only exist to flaunt their bodies. Adonis has a touch of the ethereal. Delicate, almost elvish, features lend a gentleness to his face. He’s taut but not Herculean. He is mature but retains the slim, willowy frame of youth. This special kind of male nude, named after the one and only boy that enticed Aphrodite, who could have had any man she wanted, takes center stage in Chilean artist José Pedro Godoy‘s show of recent paintings.

From Jose Pedro Godoy's "The Beloved" at White Cube

Jose Pedro Godoy’s “The Nature of the Bestiary II” (2013)

One of the strongest works in the show is “The Boys” (2013). Two young men wade in glistening blue water. One sports cherubic curls as the pool’s rays of light shimmer on his chest. He casts his gaze far away into the deep, perhaps absorbed in a daydream. The other boy is almost entirely submerged. His crew cut, nose, and eyes lurk just above the surface. He stares intensely at the other, dazed Adonis. In that gaze, there is a heat only understood by cats, dogs and teenagers. Is that staring figure daydreaming about what comes next?

In “The Boys,” the colors shine with a lush oily finish, which reinforces the sensual (and perhaps soon to be oily?) content. The intensity of the colors and shade is the product of Godoy’s unique painting technique. First, he starts with a drawing layer. The second layer is a thick black and white painting of the composition — like hyperrealism in grayscale. This step enables him to carefully shade out the composition and balance light and shadow. He then covers it all with a final layer of color in a process that could be likened to to coloring inside the lines of the book page he created for himself. The result is bright luminosity and rich dark shade that dramatizes and mystifies his subjects.

In the one work in the show in which Adonis doesn’t appear, Godoy left a large painting of a jungle, “Paradise Found” (2013), in its grayscale stage. It still looks tropical, verdant, and intense despite its lack of color. It’s a lesson that vibrancy is not just about color but also about entrancing dynamics of light, shape, line, and shade, successful in its formalist tendencies.

Jose Pedro Godoy

Jose Pedro Godoy, “Paradise Found” (2013)

There is a cluster of paintings in the show featuring young men in forest settings. In “The Nature of the Bestiary II” (2013), five men languish in the woods. They look blasé and non-chalant as though something left them stunned and lethargic. In the most explicit work, “The Nature of the Bestiary I” (2013), seven nudes are placed in the forest. One caresses his chest in the far left of the picture. Another crouches on his knees near the self-masseuse. In the center, a youth sprawls out in a twisted pose. An Adonis above him unleashes a golden shower. Three nudes to the right seem unaware of this kinky gesture. Caught up in a trance, their attention is diverted elsewhere. The shadows cloaking the entire scene reinforces the mystery in the statuesque figures’ faces.

In the writing of this review, it has been hard not to overuse the word dreamy. Entranced faces stare out into an existential abysses. Forests look enchanted, ripped from fairy tales or A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This atmosphere is fitting for Adonis because desire is so enigmatic and mysterious. Don’t we enter into a trance when we go for it? Haven’t we all felt spellbound and done things that felt right in the heat of the moment, but look other-worldly and strange in retrospect?

Jose Pedro Godoy

Jose Pedro Godoy, “The Nature of the Bestiary I” (2013)

To indulge in the perfunctory Michel Foucault quote, “People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.” In other words, we sort of get it and we sort of don’t get it. Godoy packs that internal paradox into his paintings.

From Jose Pedro Godoy's "The Beloved" at White Cube

From Jose Pedro Godoy’s “The Beloved” at White Box

It’s tempting to label these works as homoerotic. While the paintings aren’t afraid to show charged scenes, they are also cold and rife with ambiguity. To be fair, in some works, they could just be dudes that feel so safe with their sexuality they can be nude with each other. But really? The handsome boy with delicate features has been an established cypher for centuries.

The mystique in Godoy’s work is refreshing — far too much gay art is painfully obvious. All those twee images of gay couples holding hands have the iconographic depth of a meme-ready kitten pic. Explicit erotica can never look so original when the internet is full of it. Godoy’s work, in contrast, is admirable for its willingness to leave something to the imagination and revel in the stuff of daydreams. When so much of desire is actually about indescribability, the artist’s less obvious route actually captures more of the magic.

The Beloved is on view at White Box (329 Broome Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through April 11

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Daniel Larkin

A man once knocked Daniel Larkin off his bar stool and flung mean words. He got up, smiled, and laughed as the bouncer showed him out. He doesn't give anyone the power to rain on his parade. It's more...

8 replies on “Hinting at Indescribable Desire through Lush Paint”

  1. I think this work actually looks really interesting, I just don’t appreciate the implication that work has to deal with queer/gay sexuality in an “ambiguous” manner in order to rise above “typical” gay art and be deemed worthy of attention. This work ISN’T ambiguous, like at all. Anyone with eyes can see what’s going on and what is being implied. What’s the point of ignoring it’s actual content in favor of “mystery” and “ethereality”? Does it really have to be one or the other? Do we really need to reinforce these rather arbitrary distinctions?

    1. oh gregg… it is such a fantastic body of work… thanks for sharing these thoughtful questions… I’ll share my first thoughts on each question…

      When you say the work isn’t ambiguous at all, I think what you mean is that the homo-eroticism in these works is thinly-veiled. I was trying to get at that with the joke that these could just be a bunch of dudes comfortable with their sexuality. Really. But the fact that there is some effort to veil what’s going on makes the work interesting to me.

      When I spoke with the artist, he spoke about how he made efforts to imbue the figures with withdrawn dreamy expressions that ooze with ambivalence, non-nonchalance, and a blase attitude. Most of the figures do not interact with each other directly, or reciprocate what appear to be advances in the forms of stares and showers.

      What’s going on and being implied is hard to answer definitely because the boys all seem to be withdrawn and not being open about their responses to the men around them. They aren’t talking to each other. Nor do they touch (the shower doesn’t count since it’s fluid not actual body-to-body). There’s a sexual charge but it’s left unresolved.

      I think the charge is higher in these works precisely because of the ambiguity of the figures wishes and what will happen next. You almost want to scream go for it dudes. So I don’t see this idea of ignoring actual sexual content in favor of mystery and the ethereal. I see a dynamic interplay. I don’t think it has to be one or the other. I think they reinforce each other.

      There is not a single one-size fits all formula for success in gay art. As as a critic, I think it’s fruitful to be open about failures in a genre and discuss how good work avoids common pitfalls and succeeds. That isn’t to say that some people don’t pull off beefcake (Tom of Finland) or twee (Catherine Opie) well. It’s to say that a lot of people don’t do as well as Opie and Tom.

      Artists can be as unambiguous as they want with gay content. However, if they do a bad job and its tacky, I can call it out as over-obvious. Artists can be super ambiguous and mysterious with homo-eroticism if they want, but if it smacks of closeting their figures or caving into homophobia, I would also complain. It’s a tricky balance to strike which is why gay art is so hard. Part of of what make Godoy’s work so interesting is that he finds that magical median between these extremes.

  2. “far too much gay art is painfully obvious.” What are some examples of this painfully obvious gay art?

    1. I love the concept of the Leslie Lohman Gay Art Museum and see a lot of their shows but some of the work can feel obvious to me. As an example, here is a photo by Jan Van Breda in their current show. I was trying to draw a distinction between what I I sometimes see as a simplistic obvious beefcake sensibility and something more symbolic with layers to unpack. Perhaps my language was a little harsh.

        1. To get back to you Christopher, I think there is a subtle difference between the photo above and Godoy’s paintings. For me it hinges on

          1. Facial expressions
          2. posture
          3. How figures interact with each other
          4. Relationship with viewer.

          1. Face – In Godoy’s work, the faces are withdrawn, distant, cool and often looking away into the distance. Here in the photo, they are hamming it up and serving up staged expressions for the camera.

          2. Posture – The photo’s postures are very pornographic – getting ready for a three way. In Godoy, the poses are more varied but not as literally sexual. And no one is humping anyone else. Even the golden shower, which should be the exception, seems passionless.

          3. Interaction between figures – In the photo, the three figures are like synchronized swimmers, all working with each other and acknowledging each other to achieve a coordinated sexy affect. In Godoy’s panintings, there is barely any interaction between the figures. They almost act like none of the other nudes are there.

          4. Relationship with viewer – In the photo, there is a clear sense they know they are being watched. They are performing for a camera and serving up something to be viewed with a bit of fun camp. In Godoy’s paintings, there isn’t as much acknowledgement of the viewer. Are we spying? Do they know they are being seen?

          On one level, yes they could both be called middlebrow works that show off the partial nude adonis. But when you look closely at the nuances of their poise and interactive style, there’s a lot of divergence between the two that develops, at least for me, into very different readings.

          1. Thanks Daniel for your response.

            I agree with the differences you point out between Godoy’s paintings and the Jan Van Bred photograph. And wish the Whitebox show was still up to see the work in person. As you rightly point out Godoy has taken up the high-brow stance of Adonis. Whereas Van Bred references pornography in a low-brow fashion. I don’t fault either for this.

            My problem is not seeing anything new here in how the nude or naked is being conceived formally or conceptually. I feel as though each is playing to a “prescribed set of values to determine what succeeds and sells” as Jillian says in The Art of Middlebrow. They both know their audience all too well.

            Things get interesting for me when Godoy leaves out Adonis. I trust the artist
            impulse in these specific paintings because he’s not totally in control. The work is leading him. The question for myself and probably Godoy and others is if these sans-Adonis paintings would be as interesting without seeing the more explicit work.

            Don’t get me wrong. I love my porn. It’s something I struggle with in my own
            work on a daily basis. But it’s an easy card to play in the art world and most of
            it ends up being just middle-brow.

  3. If by “obvious” you mean overtly sexualized (as in the Leslie Lohman image you linked to) then I would have to agree. While Godoy’s pieces have a clear sexual undercurrent, it’s just that: an undercurrent. It is a nice change of pace as a gay viewer to be asked by a gay artist to question the impulses that lead to overt sexual acts, rather than being confronted with the act itself. Instead of serving up yet another image of hard bodied young men engaging in various states of public and private coitus, Godoy goes for something deeper. What’s great about these works is that they ask the viewer to try and define what the drive is, within each of us, that wants to be titillated. They do not seek simply to titillate. It is a very fine line to walk but I think Godoy succeeds in discussing titillation rather than simply titillating – which is what makes his work less “obvious” than many others. If that makes any sense at all.

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