Gender blender: Chadsey delineates masculinity

Geoffrey Chadsey, "Couple (Study)," 2008, Watercolor pencil on Mylar, 22 Πinches x 21 inches. Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery.
Geoffrey Chadsey, "Couple (Study)," 2008, Watercolor pencil on Mylar, 22 Πinches x 21 inches. Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery.

"And the girls want to be with the girls," David Byrne sings in a Talking Heads song. Let's hope so because in the world of artist Geoffrey Chadsey, there's no place for them (unless you count a pinup in a dorm room).

Which is not to say the feminine isn't present in Chadsey's exhibition, "Jam, Outing, Retreat," currently on view at Second Street Gallery. Chadsey's watercolor pencil-on-mylar drawings delve into male identity politics, examining, often humorously, how men mark themselves and act out their relationships with each other, whether it's wearing sports jerseys or drinking in a hotel room. Occasionally, Chadsey contrasts "the guys" with an effeminate male–-longhaired and nude–-who is in some way marginalized.

For instance, in "Waiting for the Ball to Drop," an androgynous blonde wearing only briefs watches TV on a rumpled floral bedspread in the foreground, while behind him five fully clad young men booze it up. The situation is unclear, but the testosterone-charged homoeroticism is uncomfortable.

Creepier still is Chadsey's "Weekend Outing," in which a pudgy Garrison Keillor-esque man lounges in a striped shirt and jeans on green grass, looking blandly at the viewer. In front of him, a naked man –-clearly modeled on the female figure in Gauguin's "The Spirit of the Dead Watching"-lies on his stomach. Perhaps he's dead, perhaps just napping.

Throughout his work, Chadsey makes puns and creates double entendres with his titles and images. "Outing," for example, could mean either a pleasure trip or a public revelation of homosexuality. Chadsey co-opts recognizable faces (is that Donald Rumsfeld cavorting in the pool in "Retreat"?) and appropriates compositions from pop culture and art history to spur the viewer to repeatedly think, "Wait, I know this from somewhere..." In fact, Chadsey is such a trickster in crafting sexually charged scenarios overflowing with commentary on consumer culture, art history, and machismo, his wink-wink smarty smartness borders on being smug.

Fortunately, Chadsey's technical skills save him. With an unusual approach to palette–-his characters often have green skin –-he creates flesh using parallel curves and concentric circles, yielding figures that resemble human contour maps. In contrast, his settings incorporate smudging and a lush variety of marks. The drawing itself is so gorgeous that it's easy to get lost in it and forget the strangeness of the subject matter.

But then the viewer snaps back to Chadsey's voyeuristic reality, where the boys just want to be with the boys.

Geoffrey Chadsey's exhibition, "Jam, Outing, Retreat," is no view through May 29 at Second Street Gallery. 115 Second St. SE. 977-7284.