NSFW: Nick Weber’s “Night Turns” Reclaims the Male Gaze

In NFSW, Visual Artsby Kurt McVeyLeave a Comment

It is true, that for centuries, viewers of art have basked primarily in the “male gaze,” a term that, among many curators in the 2018 contemporary art world, has become as icky and professionally repulsive as an unsupervised photo shoot with Terry Richardson. But also true, is the notion that the male gaze plays an indispensable role in making the world go ‘round. As the late, great and infinitely inimitable writer and raconteur Christopher Hitchens once noted in a 1994 feminist roundtable discussion regarding the “rape crisis” (now “rape culture”) on Charlie Rose (of all places), while surrounded by the writers and activists Naomi Wolf, Katie Roiphe, Rebecca Walker and-not to be excluded-the once contributing editor for Esquire and now The New Yorker staple, Tad Friend: “The male organ, for Heaven’s sake, is rather capricious, vulnerable…and women want this organ to be in good shape.” Moments later, Hitchens, never one to miss a “Hitch-slap,” added, “Without testosterone or erections and other things of the sort, none of us would be here.”




Nick Weber, “Dick in Hand,” 2012, Oil on canvas, 7 x 5 inches


Hitchens was speaking primarily from a biological perspective and is by no means dismissing the role women have played in shaping the color and flavor of human culture throughout recorded civilization. It is clear, however, that Planet Earth is seriously missing this brilliantly irreverent character and overall advocate for the male species and its much-maligned gaze. Hitchens has, perhaps, been replaced by Canada’s most compelling and oft-controversial intellectual, Dr. Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist who much like Hitch, though without the rapacious sense of humor, is capable of “destroying” (a decidedly male YouTube term) would-be debaters and detractors fueled by personal emotion as opposed to irrefutable science.

As an interesting aside, Roiphe, probably the most centrist feminist on that ‘94 Charlie Rose episode, often called an “anti-feminist feminist,” makes the same observation about women wearing makeup in the workplace that recently put Dr. Peterson in hot water after he suggested during an extremely frustrating to watch interview with VICE (as a hypothetical conversational launch pad) that makeup, at its core, is a means to heighten sexual attractiveness (worn by women to attract the male gaze primarily) and perhaps should be left out of the office altogether. This same suggestion, uttered by Roiphe, glossed right over Rose’s iconic table. No one batted an eye during this “war of the sexes” discussion. But one can’t help but wonder how Rose’s panel would have responded if Hitchens made the same observation.


Nick Weber, “Riverside Drive,” 2006-11, Oil on canvas, 24 x 18 inches


In the art world, especially in New York, inclusion and representation reign supreme. This is a good thing. Scratch that, it’s a great thing. That being said, what about those of us (of all genders) who are quite comfortable and rather hungry for the male gaze (not overt pornography) and seek it out like any necessary nutrient in any balanced artistic diet?

Case in point: Nikola Tamindzic’s incredible art photography series and accompanying coffee table book, Fucking New York, which depicts partially nude women of various ages and of all body types engaged in a performative sexual relationship with the city. There are countless testimonials from the women involved that speak to the rewarding nature of this project and how Tamindzic provided the requisite time, space and encouragement for his willing subjects to have, what many have called, one of the most empowering experiences of their life.

This series garnered quite a bit of press and critical acclaim, but when the time came for Tamindzic to parlay the book’s wild success into a worthy brick and mortar exhibition, curators at private galleries and relevant public institutions were nervous to give it the time of day. Tamindzic, an obvious champion of female sexuality, had suddenly found himself lost at sea amidst a clear “watershed” moment.

That finally brings us to Nick Weber, who perhaps due to this same seismic shift is currently thinking and showing “outside the box,” literally. For the East Hampton-based artist’s upcoming show opening this Thursday at Harper’s Apartment, a rare bookstore and residential space on Manhattan’s Upper East Side (East 74th), Weber’s stippled, chiaroscuro-heavy paintings of subtle fetish voyeurism (Podophilia [feet], Somnophilia [sleep]) as well as no-holds-barred depictions of POV heterosexual fellatio and even raw dog “MFMDP” (male-female-male double penetration for the uninitiated) are on full, brazen, unapologetic display.


Nick Weber, “Pile Up,” 2012, Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches


“We present art and books in a more intimate setting,” explains Harper’s Books owner, Harper Levine. “We’re a little tired of the traditional gallery space where you have fluorescent lights and concrete floors and white walls. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s always good to have a new context.”

And context is, if not everything, than most certainly important; a notion the greater part of America, steeped in a culture of reactionary outrage, has seemed to forget or is too lazy or narcissistic to remember. Hopefully Levine takes a look at Fucking New York as well.

Despite the seductive and at times salacious imagery in Weber’s show, which he’s calling Night Turns, the work is happily elevated by the artist’s deft painterly hand. Weber began honing his craft and exploring the notion of a “reality behind reality” at Stanford University in the early ‘90s while studying under the Bay Area figurative painter, Nathan Oliveira, who kicked around with the likes of the Richard Diebenkorn, David Park (both Bay Area Figurative Movement pioneers), and abstract expressionist master Willem de Kooning, who helped make masculine, man-cave art studio retreats in East Hampton a thing (Weber’s studio is in Springs, a hamlet of East Hampton).


Nick Weber, “Humid Night,” 1995-2011, Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches


Their collective influence on Weber’s work is clear. The subject matter, however, though figurative, is something else entirely. Though many have become desensitized to the bottomless contents of Porn Hub, where Weber often finds, freezes and repurposes screen-grabs, art galleries are still conservative, by and large. Weber’s dreamy paintings lead us, rather surprisingly, back to civilization, but also our youth. These are Night Turns; depictions of unprotected sex on crumpled sheets lit by harsh fluorescents; scenes of timeless suburban loitering ripe with the looming, inevitable specter of awkward but enchanting sex, but witnessed through a dank haze of spring pollen intermingled with marijuana fog and lit by moth-shrouded streetlights.

“Much has been made of rejecting the male gaze these days;” says Weber, making an effort to tread carefully, “[This idea of] looking at nude paintings of women done by men as just another example of outdated male dominance in the art world. But that’s a really political way of looking at things-very cerebral-which is a shame, because nudes are about the body. If a man truly wants to paint a naked person, whether a man or a woman, he has to find his own nakedness, to feel from within what it is like to be that naked woman.”


Nick Weber, “Sleeping Nude,” 2004-2018, Oil on canvas, 18 x 14 inches


This is a figurative statement of course, but founded on the immediate engendering of empathy, not an endorsement of, let’s say, Terry Richardson’s infamous and clearly problematic M.O. of stripping down naked himself while shooting. “The nudes are connected to the night painting in that they are a revelation of the hidden,” says Weber. “Just like the night, there is judgment around the nude figure; a forbidden status. Yet there is something so intimate, so precious and so vulnerable about nakedness.”

It’s these words-naked, precious, and vulnerable-that bolster the contemporary value of Weber’s considerably more “woke” male perspective, even if it doesn’t shy away from the universal germ of relentless male perversion, which to be fair, all humans share to varying degrees-men are just anatomically forced and often socially indoctrinated to wear their erections on their sleeve (so to speak). As Hitchens mentions late in the clearly tainted Charlie Rose interview from over two decades ago-which now exists as a sort of Lynchian fun-house mirror for the #MeToo movement-perhaps modern viewers of art should make a greater effort to discern between the nature of object (objectification) and subject (Hitchens’ term: “subjectification”) and turn their hungry eyes, if only momentarily, back to the dangerous, provocative and hopelessly essential male gaze.


Nick Weber, “Bridget Waiting for the Night,” 2012-18, Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches


Nick Weber: Night Turns
Opens: Thursday, March 22, 6-8pm (thru April 30th, 2018)

Harper’s Apartment
51 East 74th Street

Apt #2X


New York, NY 10021

http://www.nicholasweber.com

Featured image: Nick Weber, “Austrailian Feet,” 2012, Oil on canvas, 12 x 16 inches

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