Alumnus is ‘taking a shot at masculinity’ with abstract art

An alumnus and 14 other artists are featured in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”

Artists Andrew Chalfen (left) and Scott Schultheis stand near Chalfen’s piece, “The Early Universe,” in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” an exhibit at the Painted Bride Art Center on Vine Street near 2nd. Schultheis curated the exhibit. | ELIZABETH SIEGEL / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Mat Tomezsko doesn’t typically put his own work in the exhibits he organizes.

But the “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” exhibit initially piqued his interest with its relevance to current events like the #MeToo movement and the Time’s Up campaign, which both focus on sexual assault awareness and gender parity.

“What was interesting is this concept of strength and ownership and the shifting nature of time,” said Tomezsko, a 2009 studio art alumnus. “That became really appealing in how that related to masculinity and our current moment politically.”

“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” a group exhibit, opened on Friday at the Painted Bride Art Center on Vine Street near 2nd. The exhibit is organized by InLiquid, a membership-based organization representing more than 200 artists.

The show looks at aspects of masculinity, like protectiveness and ownership, and how these traits can be disrupted through media like painting, drawing and sculpture varying in abstractness, as well as the degree of realism or symbolism in the designs.

“Art has this really great way of communicating really complex ideas in a way that is non-confrontational and a little bit more contemplative, so it can tackle sensitive subject matter,” said Tomezsko, InLiquid’s exhibitions manager. “It can have a lot of subtlety. It can say things that people can’t really say with words.”

The Painted Bride will sell its space this summer to fund artists and future projects in other venues and spaces in the city. “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is included in the gallery’s final season, part of which explores identity.

For the show, Tomezsko said he took an abstract approach in his painting titled “NOW” by exploring the visual side of language. His piece is made from a mix of acrylic and asphalt on panel. He separated the letters in the word “now” to show that they can also form the words “won” and “own.”

“I think all of those words have this uneasy relationship to each other about the concept of ownership, owning the moment, winning, taking things,” Tomezsko said. “I think I’m exploring the darker aspect of [masculinity], but certainly a truth that we’re all living through at the moment.”

The exhibit features pieces like Matthew Courtney’s distorted sculpture crafted from a basketball titled, “Philip Guston,” and Kitty Caparella’s surrealistic painting “Smoking, or Non-Smoking,” which shows guns on plates replacing the food at the dinner table.

One digital print by Mitch Gillette titled, “The Swimming Hole 3/Tales of the Buffoon/Page 127,” shows a group of men peering at naked women in a pond in the woods.

Scott Schultheis, InLiquid’s program coordinator, curated the exhibit, which he hopes will spur conversation about masculinity and how it affects current events and people’s experiences in the world, he said.

“We want to talk about how people are influenced to be more masculine and why and how,” Schultheis said. “But we’re not really actually talking about it that much in society.”

Philadelphia-based artist Andrew Chalfen is showing his acrylic painting, “The Early Universe,” in the exhibit. His piece shows a network of multi-colored shapes, like circles and hexagons, interlacing with one another.

Chalfen said that although he didn’t originally create the painting with the theme of masculinity in mind, he’s been able to piece together a whole new interpretation of it since it was accepted in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

Chalfen said his painting is a nod to the idea in different cultures that God created the universe, relating to the stereotypical notion that men are the creators of the world’s infrastructure.

His piece explores the violent, explosive nature of the Big Bang Theory, the leading explanation for how the universe was created. The theory states, in simple terms, that 13.8 billion years ago, the universe began with a black hole that expanded and continues to expand today.

Chalfen argues the theory falls in line with the different religious deities performing macho acts of war and violence, like Shiva, the third God in Hinduism, destroying the world.

“So [the painting] is like guys blowing stuff up, but in God form,” Chalfen said.

He added that the hexagons overlapping with each other could also be interpreted as femininity and masculinity interacting in the middle of “life’s chaos.”

Ultimately, Tomezsko said he hopes the exhibit will push viewers outside their comfort zones, and they’ll leave with an enhanced sense of empathy.

“That’s something we all really need,” Tomezsko said. “Taking a shot at masculinity is a good idea because it feels like something we can all get behind.”

“Maybe we should question these things that have been unquestioned for centuries,” he added. “True strength really comes from flexibility and the willingness to see things and try to understand.”

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