ART I 2021
Space to Wonder, Wildly with Jonathan Lyndon Chase
WORDS by MALEKE GLEE
ARTWORK by JONATHAN LYNDON CHASE
Chase’s two-part book WILD WILD WILD WEST / HAUNTING OF THE SEAHORSE demonstrates a grasp on multiple mediums. Handwritten poems, sketches, polaroids from Chase’s life, and other elements create a kaleidoscopic experience. The acts of intimacy depicted are bold, autonomous, and assertive; here, figures and subjects are not pictured as marginal or performing value. Instead, they are central to the discourse, holding a space of power. The power wielded is not about dominance, but subversively about submission, the power to submit to desire, to love another.
For many queer Black men, intimacy is covered by shame. We are taught that our male attraction is primarily of physical interest. The interiority and depth of male-to-male affection, either platonic or romantic, is seldom commonplace conversation. Gay and queer men—absent of rites of passage into manhood and its connection to romance—define these terms, often much later than hetero counterparts. There is an absence in our homes, and more broadly in the society of Black men loving Black men. Cultural posturings of queer Black men are either closeted or hypervisible because of their embraced “feminine” gesture.The visibility of Black queerness is always in spectcale. There is the hyper-destructive or hyper-perfect narrated in media, and now the curated social media, where snapshots are often confused with daily reality. This fixity breeds toxicity; it encourages inauthenticity, numbing, grief. There is a polarity that dismisses the in-between, where brothers left unseen occupy closets and gloryholes, finding pleasure in dark, seedy spaces.
Queer Black men are illegible at times, not meant to be read, but instead studied. There is so much nuance, both historical and contemporary, that have yet to surface in the public consciousness. As I reflect on my life, my circle of brothers, and how queer life is historicized, it appears that our queerness is “seen” only in “perfect” form. Our queerness is ready for discussion in extremes—-in dismal circumstances and statistics, or hetero-adjacent terms, often guised as “Black Excellence.” As I look for spaces without performance, I find a home in Jonathan Lyndon Chase’s fantasies.
Jonathan Lyndon Chase’s practice is a study of Black male, same-gender-loving feelings. We seldom see men’s interior lives, moments that would require vulnerability, scenes that further establish a feeling, and fragility—peering through masculinity’s performance. Images of queer Black masculine bodies have a preoccupation with physicality, with the body as a medium. Often the parts of the body that are (re)-productive are most visualized, the sexual organs and muscles which exert power for material construction. In these posturings, what is given visual priority occupies a relation to consumption and capital. What is notable about Chase’s portraiture is the equal, if not more dominant, posturing of butts rather than penises. It is the bottom-affirming nature of the work that I admire, the images of men who desire penetration. This penetration is not solely for physical pleasure, but penetration beyond the performative, public layer—a rawness of affection and submission into passion.
lucky lovers, 2020. Acrylic paint, spray paint, oil slick, glitter on canvas. 72h x 60w in. (182.88h x 152.40w cm.)
The stylistic choices often reflect an in-between, playful undoneness found in scribble, circles, and doodle. Even in its playfulness, the work deals with the male body with a rare sincerity. Chase marks a moment, adding to the visual lexicon of portraiture an explicit eroticism. This eroticism is less concerned with the audience, but rather are private moments of tenderness and care. Men occupy intimate spaces like bedrooms and kitchens and other atypical environments in male portraiture. There is a richness and beauty to erotic scenes, a depth of spatiality that invites a narrative, a space to wonder.
WILD WILD WILD WEST
WILD WILD WILD WEST, and “Wind Rider”, Chase’s recent exhibition at Company Gallery, (closed on November 21, 2020) reference family and memory. Chase pays homage to their late grandmother, to whom the book is dedicated. The book opens with “grief….as memory, as a dream, as depression, as a love letter.” Grief is central to the text, and I would assert a centrality to memory for queer and gay Black men.
There is grief to half-lived lives, partly from our design. Potential is thwarted in adolescence. There is the grief of our families who require our lives to outplay their imagination. Our lives become their fantasy. There is the fear of disease, as sex was never introduced as productive and purposeful but rather risky behavior. We grieve free pleasure. We desire rawness, to be felt fully because in daily life, there are many degrees of separation. There are parts of ourselves we lost, often too young to know our negotiations consciously, not knowing what there is to lose. It is the shadows that obscure the bright potential of actualized, full selves. We look for ourselves online, and there, the troupes of engagement continue to manifest— “no fats, no fems.” We affirm ourselves through connection, to be embraced fully. We uncover remnants of parts negotiated and tucked away each time we kiss, and for Chase, these remnants are frequently shared.
cum in, 2020 Acrylic paint, photo paper collage, sunflower seeds, wood door, steel.
The book and exhibition commingle aesthetics but live fully as different experiences—both reference church culture, Hollywood Westerns, and scenes of submission. Hollywood Westerns, so central to the exhibition, are often the racial fantasy of conquest and domination. But in Chase’s paintings, such as grandma’s garden, these journeys through the West are not depicted as conquest, but journeys through and to feelings.
grandma’s garden ❤, 2020 Acrylic paint, spray paint, marker, plastic, graphite on muslin. 84h x 78w in. (213.36h x 198.12w cm)
“I was 28 years old, 78 buckets of piss.”
Buckets of urine are sketched in the book and are sculpted in the shape of the cross in the exhibition. Urine serves as a connection, how Chase remembered the last moments with their grandmother. “She’s gone, I’ve peed the bed in tears,” implies Chase’s grief, which fully engages the body. Chase’s use of orifice is immensely passionate; these holes of the body are said portals into the spirit. The spirit communicates through the most extreme emotions prompting tears, urine, vomit, and semen as often uncontrollable expressions of pleasure, pain, discomfort, and connection. This bodily expression also reflects male communication’s nature, often in the non-verbal, through gestures and silence. Chase, through text and figures, uses bilabial sounds to bring us closer to the subjects. This imagery widens conceptions of maleness and emotion, allowing it all to bear, as the body is witness.
Mouths agape, assholes, my wildest dreams.
The scenes of eroticism, of pure male affection, are a staple to Chase’s praxis. Male bodies are desirable and express their seduction. Bodies of all types enjoy pleasure.
Assholes occupy obscurity as they resemble targets, something punctured, perhaps in battle. This visual language mirrors the complexity of the sexual lexicon, which pairs pain and pleasure. “Beat it up”, “tear it up”, “screw”, “fuck”— all are claimed to denote passion, often devoid of intimacy or aftercare. Assholes, like targets, reflect the chase, the conquest that’s the ultimate goal in the Western.
Both exhibition and book are complete experiences through grief. The familiar grief is for those lost and the realization of their support and their role in personhood. Our grandparents hold us, teach us, and participate in life in many ways that parents could not. This personal history adds nuance to stories of Black families and queer life. The book and its related artworks invite us to wonder, wander, and be wild. We are invited to cum, to fuck, to cry, to piss it out and away.