I discovered paintings by Wes Hempel the other day. I don't know why I hadn't run across Hempel's work earlier, as he's been painting for about twenty years, and he seems to be exploring a reworking of queer stories and myth in painting. Maybe I hadn't heard about him before because he seems to be working from a Christian foundation, and not so much from a Neo-Pagan one.
Although there is a Judeo-Christian vibe to the paintings, they speak to my sense of being a gay man navigating life and spiritual issues. I like the painting, "Stuck," where a strapping boxer is trying to take off his gloves so he can eat a feast spread out before him. The only problem is that he has to take off his gloves before he can eat. He almost appears to be trying to gnaw his gloves off at the wrist.
One of his paintings, "Reoccurring Dream" has a shirtless man standing in rising water in a white tiled room. When I saw it, I had an aha! moment because it could have come out from one of my dreams.
There was another painting where a strapping shirtless man is posed like a mother. He's surrounded by small children, toys, and soccer balls, and he looks exhausted. It looks exactly like a 1800's painting of a mother on display at the Portland Art Museum. I like Hempel's image of a sexually desirable (but harried looking) father and how the two aspects interact (or don't)
Other paintings similarly feel as if they were telling my stories as a gay man. I particularly like "Book of Shadows."
Hempel manages to paint beefcake that's more than beefcake. The nude or semi-nude male body is a powerful and subversive image, and he manages to make his paintings subversive with erotic overtones, while managing to not stray into explicit or gratuitous images. Well, maybe a little gratuitous.
When I think about images of NeoPagan Deity I usually run across, the gods imagined are oiled up with a strategically placed vines or wolf pelts draped across their loins as they gaze out of the picture with smoldering bedroom eyes. Or they're body builders, tattoed or artfully dirty, holding up animal horns to their brows and pouting like underwear models. Or else they're about to perform The Great Rite with a buxoum, blonde, blue-eyed goddess. And actually, I don't need to see depictions of two men performing The Great Rite because my spirituality is more than just a queer retelling of Heiros Gamos. Hempel's paintings have embodied men navigating questions, they are working through something instead of being merely pleasing objects.
And they're easy on the eyes.