Joe Sinness brings queer and pop-culture references to his provocative drawings


This Friday at Macalester College, Joe Sinness, a North Dakota native with an MFA from MCAD, unveils a collection of over 30 colored pencil drawings never before shown in Minneapolis.

“It’s always been a natural response [for me] to want to make things. It’s a form of communication that seems more natural to me than writing or music,” says Sinness. “It’s something I need to do versus something I want to do.”

Sinness seduces art lovers with his intricate, erotic still life images. Queer, pop culture, and performance references run throughout his work. Depictions of Sally Field from Steel Magnolias, Barbra Streisand in Funny Girls, and Dolly Parton have all appeared in his drawings. Films that are popular in the gay community, as well as images from amateur and studio pornography, are also incorporated.

“Creating the still lifes is a way for me to re-use the performance or continue the performance and show my admiration for it,” he says. “I act as director and keep these performers and create new possibilities for them.”

Some pieces are more serious, while others are cheeky — literally. (Butts are another recurring theme in Sinness’ work.) Much of the imagery comes from “a need to communicate elements of queer coding, gay history, camp, or maybe a personal, funny story that I’m trying to relate in an abstract way,” he says.

Sinness frequently pairs his human portraits with colorful fruit or flowers, lending a curious and thought-provoking juxtaposition for the viewer.


“I don’t like the words ‘altar’ or ‘shrine,’ because they have religious connotations,” he says. “But when I’m working with images of these performers, I like to set up things where I’m gifting [them] objects.” In the same way a fan might toss a bouquet at a musician onstage, Sinness presents performers with blooms and citrus fruit. “It’s a way for me to show respect,” he says. “Not everything is a joke. I think all these things are beautiful, and I take them seriously.”

To create the drawings, Sinness collects images and objects, puts them together, and then photographs them. He then narrows down the photographs, and works from the pictures to create the still life drawings. One of the most frequently asked questions at his shows is, “How long did it take to draw that?” His answer? “A long time.”

Sinness’ work has previously been shown at the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, aceartinc. in Winnipeg, and the Rochester Art Center. Still, he says he’s particularly nervous about this show, which features art created over the last two years. Jitters or not, he will speak at an artist’s talk at Macalester’s Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center on October 15. If his articulate and gregarious nature demonstrated in his phone interview is any indication of what is to come, art lovers will walk away with a new understanding and appreciation for the provocative work Sinness does.

“I’m showing imagery or scenarios that less commonly appear in a traditional gallery setting, using realism as a way to get people closer,” he says. “I want people to see the beauty in these things as much as I do.”


"Fey: Drawings by Joe Sinness"

There will be an opening reception Friday, September 25 at 7 p.m., and an artist's talk 7 p.m. Thursday, October 15

Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center at Macalester College

Through October 21