The Masculinities of Mario Dubsky

24 Oct

Detail of Good Friday Shadow _ Dubsky

I first discovered the work of Mario Dubsky in my final year of Art College, some 12 years ago. I was working on a series of paintings that explored bats and bat mythology. One day I was searching for some inspiration in the college library and came across a book of drawings by Dubsky[1]. At the time I looked upon his work with merely a visual art lens, enjoying his use of line and tone to create dark shadowy forms. The first drawing that grabbed my attention was ‘Good Friday Shadow’, which depicts a man naked but for an open shawl or shirt across his shoulders, arms out stretched in cruciform. It was the initial resemblance created by the out stretched arms and drooping shawl or shirt to that of the wings of a bat or vampiric creature that stirred my curiosity in Dubsky’s work.   Many of his drawings proved useful references to my own paintings at that time. Now at the early stages of a new series of painted works many years on, I have rediscovered Dubsky’s drawings and have been looking upon them with a masculinities lens.

Dubsky was born in 1939 in London to parents who had converted from Judaism to Christianity. He studied at the Slade School of Fine Art and later won the Abbey Major Rome Scholarship. Between 1969-71, Dubsky completed the Harkness Fellowship in Painting in New York City. He taught at a number of art colleges, including: Morley College, Wimbledon School of Art, Camberwell School of Art and the Royal College of Art.   His works form part of many major public and private collections. Dubsky died in 1985 following an illness caused by HIV. He is buried at Highgate Cemetery in London.

In order to understand Dubsky’s work it is important to contextualise it. Dubsky was a gay man, whose early exhibited works (abstract paintings) gave little hint to his sexual orientation. However, with changing social attitudes and partial arrival of gay liberation in the 1970’s, Dubsky’s work evolved from abstraction to figurative works, which were more truthful creative expressions of his identity. In 1977, Gay News, a fortnightly gay newspaper published a poem by Professor James Kirkup about a ‘centurion’s love for Christ at the Crucifixion[2]’. The publication of the poem resulted in legal action and the first case of blasphemous libel in over 50 years. Mary Whitehouse on behalf of the National Viewers and Listeners Association took the legal action against Gay News. The six-day trial culminated in a 10/2 verdict against the paper and it’s editor at the time Denis Lemon. Dubsky’s drawings in the Tom Pilgrim’s Series are ‘a personal reaction to the prosecution of the newspaper Gay News for blasphemy …[and are] in bitter opposition to the smugness of official Christianity[3].

In his other works, Beatitudes (part of the Tom Pilgrim series), Dubsky opposes official Christianity and depicts the male nude as a mythologised pagan figure known as Pan. In mythology Pan was the Roman god of the woodland[4], depicted as being half man and half goat, Pan closely resembles the Christian devil. Dubsky’s book contains a mixture of drawings, some illustrative while others are closer to traditional life drawing and portraiture.   Dubsky also includes a series of drawings in this collection of works that are much more personal and erotic.

Dubsky’s illustrative drawings allude to ‘an unwritten text[5], a narrative known only to Dubsky that appear to explore a savagery and a vulnerability that lies at the core of human nature. The men in this series of drawings appear to illustrate contrasting masculinities, some of the men appear dominant, savage and/or strong; others vulnerable, weak and subordinate. Night Vigil depicts a man nestled into a giant owl. The man is hunched with his face hidden from the viewer. The man in the drawing appears to be seeking comfort from his feathered companion.

Night Vigil_DubskyCarnivor_Dubsky

Yet both figures are somewhat static in their embrace. The owl’s head is turned towards the man, as if awkwardly hugging him. There is sadness and a need for comfort in this work, which contrasts strongly with Carnivor, another work in this series. Carnivor depicts a male form squatting, distorted and unclear. The man’s face his hidden in a frenzy of shadow and he appears to be feasting on a large bone. There is savagery and darkness to this drawing; it invokes a contorted primal masculinity.

Dubsky’s other studies of the male form contained in Tom Pilgrim’s Progress Among the Consequences of Christianity depict thin gaunt men, who appear to be deeply suffering. Many of the men in this series are holding crucifixes (such as Posture I) or are themselves in cruciform (such as Posture V). The men in these drawings appear exhausted and limp; they are forsaken, floating in their own private purgatory. Dubsky’s interest in bones (which were the subject of separate earlier works) is clearly evident in this series, as the skeletal form of these men is clearly rendered for the viewer to see.

Posture I_DubskyPosture V _ Mario Dubsky

Dubsky’s erotic drawings depict men in various sexualised poses, attention focused on the head and genitals; other parts of the body are rendered in less detail. The men in the erotic series are rendered differently to the other men in the Tom Pilgrim collection. The quality of line and tone is different in the erotic drawings; Dubsky’s use of line is more defined in these erotic works and his tone more softly applied. In comparison to other men in the Tom Pilgrim collection who are vacant and removed from the viewer, the men in the erotic series make eye contact with the viewer and engage in a silent dialog. Lion Tattoo depicts a nude young man with arms folded, he appears strong and resolute. He looks healthy, relaxed and confident – different to men in the Posture I and Posture V.   Dubsky’s erotic drawings are deeply intimate works that reveal much about his sexual identity.

Lion Tattoo _ Dubsky

Tom Pilgrim’s Progress Among the Consequences of Christianity and Other Drawings is an engaging collection of works, especially for those interested in masculinities and sexuality studies. This contrasting collection of drawings offers unique views of men and masculinities through the eyes of Dubsky. The men in Dubsky’s drawings serve various functions from sexualised and erotic subjects, to political and social commentary, whilst others function as private allegories.   This collection is a contextual and historical snapshot, rendering a significant change in the landscape of expressions of men and masculinities during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Images used with the kind permission of Heretic Books Ltd. formerly GMP Publishers Ltd – http://www.gmppubs.co.uk 

All images © Mario Dubsky.

Text © Clay Darcy, 2014.  Clay Darcy is a PhD Candidate at the School of Sociology, University College Dublin.  To read more about Clay visit http://www.claydarcy.com or http://www.irishsociologyblog.com

[1] Dubsky, M. (1981) Tom Pilgrim’s Progress Among the Consequences of Christianity and Other Drawings, London: Gay Men’s Press.

[2] Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/11/newsid_2499000/2499721.stm accessed 08/10/14.

[3] Lucey-Smith, E. (1981: 10) Introduction, In: Dubsky, M. (1981) Tom Pligrim’s…

[4] Comte, F (1991) The Wordsworth Dictionary of Mythology, Great Britain: Wordsworth Reference.

[5] Lucey-Smith (1981: 11)

 

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