Physique & Fantasy is an ongoing series of collage shadow boxes that depict muscular men from vintage bodybuilding magazines, modern-day gay magazines, and the internet dressed up in costumes and placed in their own dreamworlds. Each element of the collage is cut out as a separate object and placed at a different depth in the box to work with the printed shadows and highlights to accentuate the illusion of depth. Iridescent elements such as glitter, tinsel, sequins and metallic paint are used to create a sense of playfulness or to signify the sacred or supernatural. Each shadowbox is a sparkly, saccharine, altar dedicated to various gay erotic fantasies.
The series was originally inspired by the many vintage bodybuilding magazines that were coded gay media which carefully avoided breaking the obscenity laws of the time. I wanted to create compositions that juxtapose the strong masculinity and sexuality of the bodybuilding magazines against lighthearted and feminine elements like cartoon backdrops and glitter-coated props. The idea to convert the collages into shadow boxes came from growing up in a Mexican Catholic household where my family would regularly create homemade altars to honor saints, lost loved ones, and La Virgen Guadalupe. These altars were often mixed media assemblages that would incorporate two-dimensional media like photos of family members or prints of religious figures with three-dimensional decorative elements like candles, local flowers, palm fronds or small statues. I was reminded of these altars recently during a visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum where I learned about the multilayer process used for cell animation and the accidental shadow boxes that are created in the process.
In creating this series I did extensive research on queer art history and became fascinated with the history and evolution of homoerotic photography. In the 1940’s photographers like Bob Mizer or Bruce Bellas aka Bruce of Los Angeles shot erotic photos of thousands of models for bodybuilding magazines like the American Model Guild, Beefcake, and Physique Pictorial. Eventually costumes and set decorating became as important as muscle to these photographers and their publications. It was no longer enough to simply present a naked bodybuilder, he had to have a hat, a prop or a costume. He had to be a Cowboy, a Gladiator or a demi-God, Most importantly he had to be part of a Fantasy. James Bidgood’s photography took gay media to its next step by depicting costume-clad, muscular pretty boys in oversaturated colors. With Mizer and Bellas the costumes and backdrops were just decorations on top of muscle but with Bidgood, the costumes and backdrop were so vibrant and ornate that they overwhelm the models and become the main focus. After Bidgood came Pierre and Gilles, a photographer and painter who collaborated to create campy high fantasy compositions. They would photograph buff pretty boys in technicolor stages and then paint smoother skin and hundreds of tiny ornate tiny details like flowers and sparkles on top of life-sized prints of the photographs. My collages are an homage to the complicated history of gay media and the great artwork that can be created when the male gaze is combined with a love for kitsch, camp, and queer aesthetics.