Dave Maat has succeeded where my friend Sylvia and the store Banana Republic have failed: he got me to go to Bayshore Shopping Centre.
When we realized that my sense of direction was even worse than his ability to give directions, he offered to pick me up at the west-end mall and drive me to his studio, an unused office on the second floor of his family’s metal fabrication business where he works as a shipper/receiver.
But don’t let the west end in this boy fool you: he’s heading downtown – to the Helsinki Lounge, to be specific – for an exhibition of mixed-media figure drawings.
Maat neither embraces nor resists the moniker of being a gay artist. “The work comes out of being a gay person but is not about being a gay person,” says the 26-year-old University Of Ottawa grad. “Certainly, the work is informed by being gay but it is not the defining element.”
Within the context of a contemporary gay culture, Maat’s work can be read as a reaction against the dominant aesthetic of the gym-built god. In fact, his work is a celebration of the imperfections of the body, of the very things that make us human.
“The figures are idealized but not in the conventional sense,” says Maat. “The body is celebrated for its imperfections. You have the skinny people, the people with imperfect skin and the people with body hair. Ninety percent of people look like that but still somehow they get into relationships.”
Unfortunately, he doesn’t often have the opportunity to use life models for his drawings owing mostly to the sporadic nature of how he works. So instead he relies on internet searches and his imagination for his source material, although he admits he prefers working with models.
“With live models there are little nuances of things you see that when drawing from memory wouldn’t necessarily be there,” he allows.
Maat is well-schooled in the history of his art form. And he says it is almost impossible when considering figurative drawing today not to think of Betty Goodwin. “In school we got quite a heavy dose of Betty Goodwin in first and second year drawing class,” recalls Maat. But he feels that Goodwin’s work by comparison is “more ephemeral.”
And Maat’s drawings are anything but ephemeral. The figures are weighted and dark. The bodies stretch, twist, contort and bend. The postures and poses are not classical. They possess a physicality that embodies tension and stress and sometimes a potential for violence.
A more apt comparison might be to the early 20th-century Austrian artist Egon Schiele. And it’s a comparison Maat does not mind in the least; Schiele is an artist he deeply admires and with whom he feels a certain kinship.
“Schiele, and other early 20th-century artists, wanted to look at erotic art in a way that wasn’t glossy, it wasn’t about, ‘Oh look at these beautiful bodies.'”
In fact, Maat says he would find it difficult to eroticize a body builder.
“Muscles can be kind of gross. The proportions are so extreme, the forms so bulbous and really tanned so they look like leather. Skinny indie-rock nerdy boys are hot.”