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“Softcore” Explores Queer Masculinity & Body Image Through Art

The exhibition from two queer artists, Théo Bignon and Tyler Stoll, has it's closing reception at VALET Saturday.

Ryan Persaud | December 5, 2017

A new exhibition being hosted by the VALET art gallery grapples with themes of queer masculinity, sexuality, and body image.

The exhibition, called Softcore, features work from two queer artists, Théo Bignon and Tyler Stoll. Bignon uses the blending and embellishment of men’s undergarments to reflect on male identity and how the utility of the underwear transforms into an object of sexuality and desire. In contrast, Stoll uses plaster and concrete to cast soft, abstracted body shapes as a way to reflect on social relationships, body image and identity, and mental health.

“I’m exploring my thoughts as someone who has dealt with a lot of those things,” Stoll said. “I think this is a lighthearted way to start conversations and to de-stigmatize talking about body image, anxiety, and depression.”

While Stoll’s work required pre-planning due to the need to sketch out and create molds for the artwork, Bignon’s art lent itself to improvisation due to the fact that it was mostly made out of fabric. “I’m piecing textiles together,” Bignon said. “I can keep adding and ripping things apart and resewing it. I like to think of that as a way to talk about queer identity – in constant transformation and remaking of itself.”

One of the reasons why the artists decided to create the exhibition is because they are relatively new to Richmond. Bignon, having originally graduated from Sciences Po Paris in France, moved to the United States to study art at the University of Pittsburgh. Stoll graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio, and went on to earn a two-year emerging artist fellowship at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. The two artists wanted to introduce their work to the Richmond area.

“We’re both new to the city, and we’re both not part of VCU, and think that we both have been wanting to have an exhibition in the city for a while anyway,” Stoll said. “I think it’s a more difficult city to get a ton of presence in if you’re not a part of VCU. I didn’t go here in undergrad, I haven’t been here for a while, so we’re just looking for a room to get our work out there.”

While Bignon and Stoll have been a part of group projects in the past, this is the first exhibition they have created themselves. Being in charge of an exhibition was an experience the artists haven’t had before, and with the help of VALET, the two were able to craft the exhibition in the way they wanted to.

Stoll said the gallery was supportive of their ideas. “We have free rein with the space and really get to do whatever we want to here, so it’s pretty ideal,” Stoll said.

Stoll said the exhibition has been accepted by the local LGBTQ community due to the fact that many in Richmond’s art scene identifies as LGBTQ.

“I think the younger Richmond community in general is quite queer, and I know a lot of queer people in the VCU Arts community,” Stoll said. “I think there’s definitely a supportive community around it.”

Bignon notes that queerness in the art community has become more accepted. However, he believes the issue is still complicated, due to previous experiences.

“I think that even the language in the arts changed,” Bignon said. “Queerness in art is a thing now, when it was less acceptable to say these words 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. That’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot because I‘ve made work which was way more explicit about sexuality, and before committing [to a project] for sure, I’m always wondering if it’s not, like, too much. I think it’s complicated to have a fixed opinion, but I think that [VALET] was very welcoming for us.”

Softcore opened on Dec. 1, with private viewings by appointment running until Dec. 9. A closing reception for the exhibition will be open to the public, and it will take place on Dec. 10 from 4pm – 7pm at VALET, located at 509 E. Franklin St. Private views can be requested by emailing Bignon or Stoll.