By now, you may have noticed that the Underground, the only full-time gay club in town, has been replaced by STYXX, a gussied-up version of the deceased dowager queen of gay nightlife in Portland. As part of a five-month remodel of the once-disgusting subterranean nightclub, new owner Neal Margulis has made a promise to keep the place “fresh, [and, thankfully, gut the filthy bathrooms] to bring the thrill back of out. The problem with the Underground is that, after 10 years, absolutely nothing had changed. It was the exact same place. If you want to have a successful night club, you need to make changes and convince people that they want to keep coming back and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Enter Portlander Brenden Sanborn, a local artist who specializes in male nudes. Margulis has tapped Sanborn, whose prints have been selling briskly on eBay, and who was recently commissioned to create a book cover for an upcoming gay novel, to adorn the new club with “Shy Voyeurism,” a showing of his work that goes up October 8.
To be sure, most galleries are quick to shy away for showcasing male nudes, so, says Sanborn, eager to get his work seen, STYXX is the next best thing — he’ll take it, and he does so graciously and thankfully. Sanborn is one painter who hopes to shatter the taboos surrounding the male figure and, through design and process, he is doing it in ways that some other artists and instructors of art might consider to be renegade or proscribed in the conventional wisdom of creating fine art. Lush, abundant use of contrasting color, naked bits of canvas, and a desire to capture the emotion of the creation of human energy are all hallmarks of Sanborn’s works.
His Portland dining room serves as a makeshift studio (he hopes to pour proceeds from the sale of his paintings into studio space), and that’s where he takes pride in showing off his most recent work-in-progress, an oil painting of a man lying in bed.
“I just started that yesterday,” he says during a studio visit. “I want to keep the painting as simple as possible and give the viewer the sense that this man is lying in bed naked, but he’s covered. There’s a class to it.”
Class is Sanborn’s modus operandi — he shies from full frontal nudity, something that often helps him to convince friends to model for him, and definitely helps in his effort to sell both original works and prints to otherwise more skeptical customers.
“I’ve always been drawn to the male physique, but I feel that a lot of the art that’s part of the so-called gay genre is, well, I want to present something with more passion, more class, something that you don’t have to hide when mom comes over,” Sanborn explains. “I don’t have anything against that kind of artwork, I just come from a totally different perspective and a different direction. My style consists of bold contrasts and an abundant use of color — I love color.”
One of Sanborn’s major objectives, after three years of focusing almost entirely on amassing a collection of male figures, is to get his work out into the market. So far, he’s met with success, most likely because he doesn’t tow the line when it comes to conventional physique style.
“I’m much more into the flaws, I love the natural feel of the human body and I don’t like to embellish anything, mainly because that’s just who I am. What I want to embellish are the colors, not the actual physique, because I like to tell a story,” says Sanborn, explaining a caveat about his chosen subjects.
“The people that I paint are generally my friends, and I don’t want to misinterpret them,” he says. “A lot of the colors that I use come from the personalities of these people. I just go with my instinct and when it happens, everything else just falls into place.” Many of his friends are from the Portland area, so don’t be surprised if some the images you see at STYXX have a certain familiarity.
Sanborn, though, is originally from Exeter, New Hampshire. He decided to escape from New England for art instruction at the Savannah School of Art Design in Georgia. From there, he became a self-taught graphic artist in Florida before coming to Maine three years ago. The journey through the South and art school provided Sanborn with a well needed social education, but, he says, art school also taught him to buck standards.
“I was being force-fed a certain way to draw. Art schools embed into your brain that you shouldn’t used certain techniques, stuff like that. I’m not a man of restrictions. In fact, my greatest pleasure comes from children’s art,” says Sanborn. “They just paint with pure conviction. I want to simplify everything, too.”
But he also revels in the complexity of the male figure, something, he says, is more challenging to paint than that of a female.
“I am continually curious about its complexity — simple shifts in light can produce varying multiple shapes and textures; soft lines interact harmoniously with ridged edges, producing a challenge which I always search for when painting,” says Sanborn. “I enjoy bringing images of same-sex couples into my work. The beauty of love and friendship transcends so many boundaries.”
Tony Giampetruzzi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Shy Voyeurism” goes up October 8 at Styxx, in Portland. Call (207) 828-0822.
Issue Date: October 1 – 7, 2004
BY TONY GIAMPETRUZZI