Michael Bilsborough Makes Frightfully Intoxicating Images

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QT: With regard to the 2005/2007 evolution: your previous work seems depicted in a certain period, a certain era. “The After Party” and “Bathroom Lines” have a certain style: the characters look like a blend of americana and a modern violence. Perhaps they’re in the 80s? The space and subjects in “An Enema Mamma Mia” and “Inverted Figure,” meanwhile, have a purgatorial quality. Does that make sense?

MB: Right! Both “After Party” and “Bathroom Lines” were my New Wave Period, with downtown debauchery and a myopic fascination with cosmopolitan indulgence. The music would be 80’s soundtracks. “An Enema Mamma Mia” takes place in a domestic bathroom, a logical interior for a baptism or ablution, cleansing – hence, “An Enema.” And a same-sex, headless Pieta appears in “Enema,” which teases dated, but indelible ideas of matriarchy. “Inverted Figure” is something like a crucifixion, via S&M or ambitious slumber party games. But the prime character, who is not a hero but a victim – or even a willing, passive player – is upside down. That handicaps him, suggests gravity, and reveals upside-down genitals. Incidentally, the pendulous, collapsible texture of testicles is distinctly contemporary, right? Who beat Bruce Nauman to it?
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QT: Is violence a rite of passage? On a related note: our parents generation and our generation have both grown up with a super power to fear: the Russians. More our parents, but we got a bit of it, too. The kids coming up now have to worry about the nebulous terrorists. This isn’t really a question, but it’s interesting we’re taught about frightful enemies. That fear becomes a part of our nationalism.

MB: Fascism always needs a great enemy, right? But going further back, we had the Redcoats, the Visigoths, and the Allosaurs. Every generation has its enemy and its war; that’s inevitable. Is that so totally unidealistic of me to say? Every individual finds violence first-hand or by observation. I guess it depends on what you mean by violence. Birth is bloody and terrible, but we smile warmly and cry in the end. Mel Gibson smashing people up in Braveheart is bloody and terrible, but we cheer and clap. Bears chew up fish and we just sort of shrug: “Eh, that’s nature.” They chew up Herzog’s hero and we grunt, “He had it coming.”

QT: There’s strangulation/bounding in a few of the pieces. “Inverted Figure,” obviously, but it comes up in “The Sorrows of Young Werther Werther Werther” and more subtly in “No Easy Way Out”. Why? What’s going on?

MB: I guess that’s a good way to follow up on the impossible question about violence. Strangulation can be murderous, yet it enhances arousal, for some people. Whether it’s alone or between lovers, choking seems a morbid approach to sex, which I wanted in that drawing. The bondage and choking stir menace into the broth, while also yielding the vast relativity of sexuality.

Much of the work is about separating sexual desire from contemplative study, passion from reason. So asphyxiation is a natural surrogate for that idea. So why not decapitation instead? That creeps me out too much.

QT: Back to the 2007 pieces. Is danger erotic? Is fear?

MB: I went skydiving the summer before last and immediately switched from drawing to painting. For an entire year. I needed something hearty, something that made me conscious of physical sensation. I found that in painting more than in drawing. -So the overwhelming terror in skydiving left a residual and weird corporeal awareness in me. Was that a kind of eroticism? I don’t know, but I have to answer the question within the boundaries of myself, because I don’t know how danger affects other people. Danger and fear could be erotic. Inflicting danger and fear could be, too. Boredom and leisure could be, too.

QT: Are these cautionary tales?

MB: No.