My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

What lurks within

by Drew Rowsome

The photos and paintings of Stev'nn Hall are usually infused with an undercurrent, if not an explicit rendering, of erotic violence. The photos of G Elliott Simpson are an exploration into just how far one can dive into a dark sexual underworld and still remain erotic. Combining them in the show Duel Identities is an intriguing proposition though the contrasts are more obvious than the similarities with Hall's bright colours yet dark themes dominating until one comes face to face and is drawn into Simpson's predominantly black and blue vision. What holds it all together is Hall's portrait of Simpson that vividly and wittily pinpoints the intersection of their talents.

Hall has created portraits of what gallery curator John Rait notes are, "Pillars of our community. The men who have contributed so much to gay life." The portraits explore the inner demons and/or delights of these men and their, like everyone else's, duality. The resulting photographs have been processed to become painterly canvases and the push and pull between Photoshop realism and brushstroke distance creates a tension that amplifies the inner selves in conflict. "I arranged this wall with themes of art, religion and theatre," says Rait as he points to portraits that include Brendan Healey of Buddies in Bad Times theatre and writer/artist Sholem Krishtalka. Placing the fantasies and sexuality of those who create and explore fantasies and sexuality in their work, between the straightforward fantasy/sexuality of Simpson's photos creates another layer to some already deeply layered works.

Conversely Simpson's models are rendered virtually anonymous under layers of make-up and processing, except for one intriguing and very disturbing photo hung alone on a wall. It is also very processed - though in colours and symbols rather than fluids and inky hues - but the portrait subject is still recognizable and is far from a pillar of our community. It is a shocking audacious image and Simpson's explanation of how the portrait came about makes for a fascinating insight into the artist's process and strict moral code. It is far more unsettling than Simpson's blatantly horrific/erotic work and it will be an interesting journey if he continues on this path.

The gay community deserves to be celebrated and recorded and kudos to Hall and Simpson for doing so while also acknowledging and recording our deepest darkest desires and the eroticism that is an integral part of what should be immortalized.

Duel Identities continues until Sun, Oct 27 at Pentimento Gallery, 1164 Queen St E.