Joe Sinness' artworks feature nature, nudity, leather, and masculine sexuality

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Joe Sinness, 'Cushion'

Nudity. Flora. Old Hollywood. These are a few of Joe Sinness’ favorite things -- or so you would think after seeing the Minneapolis-based artist’s new exhibition, "The Flowers."

Joe Sinness: The Flowers

Minneapolis Institute of Art
Free

Through cinematic panoramas, portraits, still-lifes, and theatrical sculptures, the provocative artist beautifully explores the spellbinding spectrum of sexuality. Sourcing inspiration from real life and iconic films, Sinness turns a tender eye toward desire, incorporating cultural touchstones like cruising with natural elements like cacti. The result is a subtle and sensual feast for the eyes.

Sinness answered a few of our questions about this titillating exhibition, on view at the MAEP gallery at Mia starting Thursday.

City Pages: How do you feel about Minnesotans’ reaction to your work? Are Minnesotans more or less repressed than audiences in other locations where you’ve shown your work?

Joe Sinness: Minnesota has been a very progressive place to live, and I’ve generally had positive reactions to my work in the past. In terms of LGBTQ+ liberation, there’s a historic tendency to want to "go slow"; to not create waves, lest we be perceived as even more different. But I keep looking for ways of turning shame into dignity, beauty, and pride, especially in how I represent sexuality – and sexual liberation affects all of us.

CP: What do you hope to depict or evoke with your portraits of gay men that remains unexplored in other artists’ work?

JS: I wouldn’t claim to be entering any unexplored territory. This show, and the portraits in it, are a collection of codes, memories, important camp cultural references, and fantasies that I’ve been collecting. I’d like to think that the show is about exploring the beauty of my community, and unpacks shame about sexuality. I want the portraits to be perceived as powerful, sensitive, and worthy of desire.

CP: How did you go about finding models for this collection of artwork?

JS: Some of the models gifted me with their own pictures for the process and I incorporated the images into still lifes, which I photographed and then completed with colored pencil on paper. The process for photographing models in my studio is different, because I work with the models directly and can negotiate poses and costuming dependent upon the person I’m working with and the fantasy I’m trying to create for the finished drawing.

I keep a large board of inspiration images in my studio of male pinups from ‘50s physique magazines, old Hollywood divas, poses from classical artworks. I’ll get an idea for a specific character I’d like to develop from these, and then find a model who I think can create that fantasy. 

CP: How structured is the modeling process? Does the subject choose his wardrobe and pose or do you?

JS: The modeling process involves a lot of discussion, trust, negotiation, and consent. I want to make sure models are comfortable and pleased with the results. I often entertain suggestions from models on poses or wardrobe because, as I mentioned before, all of my planning for how I think a shoot will go may change when the model starts posing.

CP: Why was cruising an important element to include in this collection of artwork?

JS: Cruising – especially in more oppressive times when we were less likely to be out and proud – was a way for us to find each other and to find a moment of comfort, love, or release. Cruising involves layers of coding that were created so that we could identify each other and communicate without necessarily saying a word. Cruising is performative; it sometimes involves a bit of drag, and it is beautiful. I think it is important to address and assess how cruising adapts and transforms, especially through new political climates.

CP: How does cinema influence this body of work?

JS: Greatly. For most of the portraits, I have chosen fragments of painted sky backdrops from classic Hollywood musicals to use as the backdrops for the models. They lend romance, an otherworldly beauty, and fantasy to match the gaze of the models.

CP: What role does nature – plants, clouds, flowers – play in your work?

JS: Sometimes plants, like palm leaves, are references to visual strip tease – a slow reveal/conceal of natural beauty. Clouds are ethereal and beautiful, like the figures I’m drawing. Flowers are sensitive and also performative in their own unique sexuality.

IF YOU GO:

Joe Sinness: “The Flowers”
MAEP gallery at Mia
6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, July 20
Free


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