This Artist Is Tackling Black, Queer Identities In An Intimate Way
“Oppression is not our entire story,” Jonathan Lyndon Chase says of his exhibition, “Sheets.”
By Curtis M. Wong
For his new exhibition, artist Jonathan Lyndon Chase uses bedsheets to relay an “ever-changing and evolving” message about race, gender and sexuality.
“Sheets,” which opens Friday at Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles, is a mixed media series of about 12 paintings by Chase that asks viewers to “unravel or disrobe the layers of multiple identity we maintain for the outside world in order to live,” according to organizers. An adjacent, salon-style display will feature additional sketches on paper.
To create the series, the Philadelphia-born Chase used sketches, photos and collages in addition to traditional oil paint. The contorted and often sexually explicit images reflect the artist’s experiences as a queer and non-binary black man. Many of the men depicted wear lipstick, eyeshadow and jewelry in a deliberate nod to 1980s and ’90s ballroom culture.
The aim of “Sheets,” Chase told HuffPost, is to encourage viewers to “embrace the potential for change both outside of their own body and world as well as inside of themselves.”
“Our stories are not necessarily rooted in pain ― that’s just part of our experience,” he said. “Oppression is not our entire story. It’s important for us to continue to center our own narratives, documenting and adding to our history for the future.”
The 28-year-old is open about his struggles with bipolar disorder, something he also aimed to subtly depict in “Sheets.”
“The highs and lows are, in ways, like dreams and nightmares,” he said. “This is just one facet of my own story and experience, but prominent in many LGBTQ lives as well.”
His impetus for using bedsheets as a base material, meanwhile, was manifold.
“Bedsheets have a lot of different connotations to me,” he said. “Reality is made up of socio-cultural threads that are woven together. We’re all part of society, and the common thread is our bodies, which we use to rest, resist and to navigate our identities as well as the outer world around us .... I also think of a bedsheet as similar to a body in that both hold memories, smells and touches.”
Meanwhile, Kohn Gallery’s associate director, Joshua Friedman, praised Chase for “transforming the very nature of representation” through his art.
“His work is rooted in a personal narrative, but he transforms these subjects into an open visual dialogue that can be interpreted and understood by all viewers,” Friedman said in an email. “Jonathan wants to create images that function as we might ... these works are the fabric of life and embody the raw and tender beauty of the human experience that does not hide a single stitch.”