COLLECTIVELY speaking, we love to see growth in all aspects of Salt Lake City's cultural landscape. Our artistic landscape, however, is of particular interest to us, and thanks to the efforts of so many incredible people, our city is home to a thriving art scene. Case in point: Andrew Moncrief’s most recent series of paintings, A Strange Feeling, which will be exhibited next month at UMOCA. It feels like a significant departure from his previous work. His last series was less about his subjects and more an inquiry into the relationship between paint and the human form. I loved the work and there were moments of striking epiphany--though, it felt as if Moncrief happened upon these moments rather than having sought them out. They were strong, beautiful paintings, but they lacked the intentional mood of someone who desperately needs to speak his mind. This new series--each depicting 2 men, coupled in what appears to be an embrace at some times and a fight at others--feels fueled by an absolute need to take the reins, to convey an impassioned point of view.
This is the first thing I asked Andrew when we spoke last week. Why was this work so different? He told me that it had largely to do with the fact that he painted this series in his hometown on Vancouver Island--a place where he hadn’t spent any significant time since he left at the age of 18. At that point, Andrew had yet to come out, and so in many ways, he was reliving the experience of what it was to be closeted. It was his rumination on this, paired with an inspiring work by Marian Wagschal depicting a pair of wrestlers, that got Andrew thinking about the violence within love. A “violent embrace,” he calls it. He started researching images of Turkish oil wrestling, an 800-year-old sport that struck him as equal parts sensual and violent, and ultimately, his thinking came full circle. He was left considering his former self, an 18 year-old wrestler who couldn't let on that he was gay. For Andrew, it's the dualism inherent to the act of wrestling that is so fascinating. Sensual, but aggressive. Homoerotic, yet straight. Physical touch in an arena where men aren't "supposed" to be touching.
I told him that the series reminds me of the phrase, “keep your enemies closer.” That there is an unnerving tension to the paintings as they vibrate between love and violence. An unsettling feeling of deception. Andrew agrees. "This was the motivation in setting the men in Bouguereau-inspired landscapes," he says, "where the bucolic scene is disrupted by the mens’ act." For me, this is what gives the paintings life. The fact that we are voyeurs to either an inherently-violent or inherently-private act. Even more powerful, though, is being a witness to the hard confidence of his skill, in direct contrast to the absolute vulnerability of what he’s working out on the canvas. We can't look away.