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Cover Up

Aaron McIntosh's “Man Shy” puts social codes to bed at Russell/Projects.



"This is kind of a weird place to be in,” textile artist Aaron McIntosh says about the work in his recent solo show. “I have come to realize I am working in this vein of my own desire and what that is, where it came from, and my own personal experience.”

McIntosh's eclectic assortment of expression delves into the world of quilts, boyfriends, and romance novels, bringing forth a personal perspective on a universal ideal. In “Man Shy,” at Russell/Projects, McIntosh takes on assumptions about human identity and sexuality. [image-2]

“Hetero-normative identities suggest that humans have a whole culture of codes and symbols that are out of a system developed by heterosexuals,” McIntosh says. This system is set in place by a majority to deem what is the norm in culture, he says. To manage this dialogue McIntosh pulls from his entire social and historical makeup — his aunts, great aunts and grandmother are quilters as well as voracious readers of romance novels. He grew up in a rural environment, and had never heard of anyone being gay until he made his way to college.

“Even though it is like this big contrast to go from gay erotic magazines to these traditional quilt patterns, in a weird way it is not,” he says. “I am taking artistic liberty in saying that it is not, but this whole idea that we come from where we are from and I came from all of these quilters, and obviously I am striking off in a very different path in life — I am Appalachia, I am kind of country, but that I am also queer and live mostly in urban environments.”

McIntosh's ability to compound such diversity is the success of much of his pieces. His use of the romance novel as text and imagery offers the experience of reading into a romance novel and finding yourself in a desirable situation. These escapist elements that negate true human contact are at the heart of his work. One series is a collection of romance-novel covers mounted to paperboard. Each one, a standard example of a contemporary cover, shows a strong male figure holding a beautiful woman in an embrace. McIntosh muddies the context by removing the woman from the work. Instead a white void remains; an empty space for the viewer to try to fill.

“If you are going into these books and print material to try and find desire,” he says of attempts to escape, “inevitably that is a lonely experience that gets into a personal narrative in a lot of ways.”

Another piece in the show consists of two twin beds placed side by side. The artist has constructed quilts for each bed, with traditional panel patterns. But the fabric is made of a printed cloth in which McIntosh has transposed covers from gay-life magazines onto them. The separation of the beds as well as context of the quilt material challenges the viewer's original conditioned response about who sleeps alone and who shares a bed.

Also, he says, it's a process of “reminding people that because the quilt is related to the bed, the bed is a really charged place where lots of things go on. … People have sex in bed, people have babies in bed, people die in bed. The quilt can be fraught with a lot of emotional things. It is not just this quaint little country thing.”

 “I have always been interested in this idea that we have this cherished notion of quilts that they are part of this American heartbeat,” he says. “I have been interested for a number of years in sort of subverting that.” S

“Man Shy,” a solo exhibition by Aaron McIntosh, is on display at Russell/Projects, 0 E. Fourth St. No. 44, until Nov. 22. Call 901-0284 for information.

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