Picture this: Retrosexual exhibition at Balans through February

Retrosexual is an exhibition of new work by the artist Villain at Balans Soho Society on Old Compton Street from this Friday (1 Feb). Dave Cross had a chat with the artist to find out more about his compelling mix of retro gay imagery with current issues and behaviours.

Hi Villain, first of all, I have to ask, what’s the idea behind your name?

It actually comes from the fact I have a six inch scar that runs down the side of my head, it was suggested by my partner and friends. I’m a big comic book geek and I think villains are usually the most interesting characters, so it all made sense to me. 

What’s the idea behind your exhibition Retrosexual at Balans?

It’s queer pop art and the idea is to address modern themes using vintage imagery, specifically issues that LGBT people are facing today and specifically vintage gay imagery. 

They are a mixture of photographs and graphic design, are all the photo images actual vintage shots? 

Some are sourced vintage imagery, but actually most of them are recreated brand new photos taken for this project.

In the style of…is it 1950s?

Yes, from the fifties right through to the seventies when it was published under the term ‘beefcake’ and under the guise of health or fitness. Men would buy these fitness magazines just so they could look at other guys, a bit like looking at the underwear pages in a catalogue. 

And you’ve mixed these images with issues that are relevant today?

Yes absolutely, I’m presenting issues that gay men face in the style or context of nostalgic imagery. I believe that a lot of these issues that we face today have actually been around for a very long time, things like body fascism, racism and the way we communicate with each other. We’ve updated the imagery we use as gay men, but we still haven’t addressed these problems which were there when the original images were published. Being exclusionary, such as saying ‘no fats or fems, no blacks no asians’ is awful and is embracing the worst aspects of heterosexual society. Obviously we all have personal preferences, but when you put it out there in public it is really hurtful and makes people feel even more insecure than they already do. We may have stopped using the hanky code or Polari, but we haven’t sorted out the issues.

Is there anything else we should know?

Yes, prints of the artwork will be for sale with 10% of the purchase price being donated to the Terrence Higgins Trust. 

Retrosexual is at Balans Soho Society, 60 – 62 Old Compton Street, Soho, W1.


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