Toronto
2 min

Warped & deft

Weaving an intoxicating spell

BLUE BOY. The large, colourful and inviting tapestries of Carl Stewart use Internet porn as their image source. Credit: Xtra files

Chances are your grandmother never thought about gay porn when she wove rugs years ago – but Carl Stewart has. Extensively. His latest body of work, Blue For Boys, is an eye-popping collection of weavings based on images from Internet porn. This cozy show is just the boost of warmth and sex required to get through the winter.



Blue For Boys marks the Ottawa-based Stewart’s first Toronto show but he’s been weaving for years. Born and raised on Prince Edward Island, Stewart studied in Charlottetown at the School Of Visual Arts. When he first stepped into the studio he had an epiphany: Weaving was it. Fresh out of school, he churned out placemats, towels and sweaters – heavy production work that slowly evolved. “Even now,” says Stewart, “20 years later, I absolutely love the physical act of weaving.”



Unlike many artists, Stewart doesn’t see his work as particularly precious. Every year he cleans out his studio and throws out older, less successful works, sometimes up to eight bags worth – an intriguing fact considering Stewart has made pieces from garbage. In Fragments From A Discarded Civilization he collected swatches of fabric from mattresses on the street and produced intricately embellished quilts with them.



In Blue For Boys, a series begun in 1998, you’ll see plenty of men getting nasty with each other. Situated indoors these men play with each other in front of rose patterned wallpaper – another find, this time from Five Roses flour. They first popped up in a piece he did for an open studio at the bread factory-cum-artist studio where he works.



There is no arguing: The works are beautiful. And inviting. Unlike the digital source images, these weavings have an incredible sense of warmth and comfort. “Images on the Internet extend the viewer an offer,” says Stewart, “and play on the expectation of fulfillment.” But despite the offer, the images have no tactility. These tapestries are a different type of offering; they carry through with sensuality. The pieces beg to be touched, and no one is going to slap your hand if you do.



This series is filled with tension since tapestries are associated with craft fairs and women’s history, not gay porn. There must have been more than a few folks blushing upon realizing that Blue for Boys isn’t a collection of baby quilts (not to mention Stewart’s run-ins with censors, including Xtra’s printer, which once refused to run one of Stewart’s images for a Capital Xtra story).



In a collision of old and new technologies Stewart transforms the fleeting into the monumental, investing hundreds of hours reinterpreting disposable images. Like many artists Stewart turns the familiar on its ear. Neither fully embracing art nor craft he situates himself boldly on middle ground.



It would be easy enough to dismiss this work as reinforcing gay clone-ism if they were just simple reproductions. But they carry the historical weight of their medium. While they don’t outright challenge stereotypes of gay male beauty, they do act as a good starting point for dialogue. 



Critical discussion aside, some things simply turn us on.



* Showing with Carl Stewart at the O’Connor Gallery are sculptures by Glenn Elliott. The opening reception is Thu, Feb 5 from 8pm to 10pm. Keep an eye out for Stewart’s 80-foot tapestry in a group show called Dark Cloth in early May at the Textile Museum Of Canada.



BLUE FOR BOYS.

Thu, Feb 5-Mar 6.

O’Connor Gallery.

97 Maitland St.

(416) 921-7149.

Oconnorgallery.com.