Details from THE LAST JUDGMENT
by Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516)
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OUR VERY OWN FLOWERS OF EVIL
While some decry the advent of computer generated imagery and view it as an unwelcomed encroachment into the world of charcoals, oils, and pencils, it should be remembered that the same was said of photography when it first appeared on the art scene. Although there are hundreds of Gay and Lesbian artists who now use a mouse as their brush and a computer screen as their canvas, few of them have achieved the level of recognition and notoriety as one unassuming Texan who goes by the unlikely name of Greasetank (GT). His works have been displayed in such disparate locations as Riga, Rotterdam, and Los Angeles, and published in periodicals as varied as Blue, Squeeze, and G-Men.
So what is there about his compositions that has made some in the art world sit up and take notice? In the September 2003 issue of Australia's Blue magazine, Brad Johnston summed it up this way:
"Greasetank's world is populated with brutal, muscled thugs and their blond, boyish victims, with a chorus of liquored-up good ol' boys chanting for the kill. It's a hypermasculine, fascist hell-paradise, and with its homoerotic edge and potent use of 20th century symbols, it's also unsettlingly familiar. These are universal nightmares, filtered through the sensibilities of one man, a gay man, and the results - love them or hate them - are powerful."
Political correctness seems absent from Greasetank's vocabulary, as many of his compositions depict the most degrading and alarming aspects of bigotry and homophobia. "I'm pushing it about as far as it can go," he says. "They're odd bedfellows, brutality and sexuality. That one should feed off the other is a deep mystery to me, but it would be a big mistake to cover my eyes and pretend it isn't so."
That sounds fine on the surface, but why delve into areas of the psyche that have traditionally been off limits? But are they "off limits?" Brutality certainly hasn't been off limits. For example, if one looks at the late 15th Century Dutch paintings of Hieronymus Bosch (see details at left from The Last Judgment) or the 12th Century sculpted facades of Medieval European cathedrals one can see horrific acts of barbarism depicted and inflicted on martyred saints and sinners condemned to eternal hell fires. Greasetank presents it in a different context, sure, using sexual rather than religious epiphany as a rationale, but it's definitely nothing new.
But isn't he concerned that such depictions will lead to greater violence in a world that is already on the brink? "I sure hope not," he says, "but I can't make that guarantee. Art isn't only what's on the canvas. It's much more about what awakens within the observer when he or she confronts it, and I have no control over that."
Then why not let sleeping dogs lie? "Well, they're not lying, you know, and never have been. They're just below the surface, waiting to pounce, and if we don't throw the light of discernment on them and give them their due, they will continue to operate in darkness, just beyond our control. Jung called this phenomenon the Shadow, and he felt very strongly that we should confront it. My Greasetank art, if anything, is designed to reveal one aspect of that Shadow - the sadistic and ultimately pathetic pleasure we can experience in our gonads when confronted with the suffering of others. The closest term I've been able to find for it is the German word schadenfreude.
"If you're conditioned in a certain way, you can't help but encounter those impulses when viewing my art. And that's why I believe it is art, and not just an exercise in poor taste."
So what is it that awakens in us when we view these images? Repulsion? Lust? Indifference? A desire for unbridled power or abject humiliation? Greasetank believes that confronting these impulses and understanding them will help us throw light on that Shadow, and declares hopefully: "I think we will all be better off because of it."
Despite his stated rationale, the doubt remains that Greasetank may simply be out to shock our sensibilities with the frequent use of Nazi iconography and redneck sloganism -- elements that together create a landscape that is at once repulsive and alluring.
It is interesting to note, however, that he also creates less extreme images included in this QAR Exhibition. GT labels these Experimental Art. "I really love doing it. I'm never sure what's going to materialize on the screen until I open my Photoshop and 3D programs and start playing around. I'm always delighted when something less extreme comes out."
And what does the future hold for this artist? "I suspect I'll be abandoning the Greasetank art at some point when I've thrown so much light on those dark urges that I find them neither repulsive nor appealing. When the day comes when I'm totally indifferent, then I'll move on. Until then, I'm not too concerned about what others think of the violence in my art," Greasetank states candidly. "I'm neither proud of it nor ashamed of it. I do know, however, that I'd never get anything done in life if I relied on the approval of others."
Greasetank's digital images are our very own Flowers of Evil. Disturbing and cathartic as this subject matter may be, these powerful images remain the creations of a graphic artist whose masterful close-up compositions and his complex use of color that reveal the dark side are worthy of our attention and appreciation.
This collection of 23 digital images are all from the last five years (2001-2005). Included in this selection is Greasetank's latest work CLOWNING AROUND (September 2005) -- a QAR Exclusive.