Art and Toxic Masculinity: Interview with Armando Cabba
Ever since the #MeToo movement began exposing abusers in Hollywood circles, the art world can no longer hide the truth about some of its masters. Paul Gauguin’s racially and sexually exploitive undertones in his portraits of Tahitian women. Pablo Picasso was notorious for his engagement with underage girls through out his life. Chuck Close being pulled from museums due to both students and models coming forward with sexual harassment allegations. Yet their art is still profiting from tourism and private buyers. Why? Because genius can excuse the wrongful acts of any white male artist.
With all that said, there is hope. Artists actively fighting against predator culture and toxic masculinity. One of those artists is Armando Cabba. A Canadian painter who is known for exploring identity through an on going series of self portraits. He’s been incredibly outspoken regarding mental health and has continued to use his platform to be a positive influence both inside and outside the art world. Cabba’s talent combined with his engagement as an activist makes him a leader in the new wave of contemporary artists. We’ve had the chance to chat with him and get his insight on the subject.
How would you describe your practice to a new audience?
As an artist, I dissect the fabric of my emotional state by painting self portraits which doubles as a form of therapy and questions temporary identities in how I feel versus how I look. Long story short, I make slow moody selfies.
When I’m not looking in a mirror, the art I create is a response to the things around me like the portraits of the people in my life and politically charged pieces. The rest of my work is a hodgepodge of everything else going on in the reality I’m taking part in.
Have you always been conscious of your identity as an artist since you began painting?
No. I don’t think anyone really is that self aware at the start when you doodle all over the place. I had a transition where I began to be more conscious of my role deep into my self portrait series and when I began to make politically charged paintings. There comes a point where you have to ask yourself who you are and what that all means when it comes to you creating work around a certain subject. Why are you narrating? What story are you trying to tell? I don’t see myself as this white saviour who’s going to make one painting saying “racism is bad” all will be good in the world. I understand my placement along with what platform I have in society and that relationship to on going issues.
How has Toxic Masculinity played a role in your story?
I can tell you that I was toxic once upon a time. Combine growing up in a broken home with 9 years at an all boy private school and you’ll get quite the spicy outlook on the world being a young white guy. Despite going through therapy from a young age, I still had lots of issues that with time I managed to unlearn. I wasn’t perfect and I’m sure as hell not perfect now, but I like to think I’m doing better. Looking back at it, I wasn’t a lunatic, but I wasn’t helping things either. Art school really helped me get my sh*t together because I was launched into a completely different environment where I was the minority and was surrounded by individuals who came from completely different backgrounds than me. I’m grateful that I’ve had wonderful friends who have helped me grow and that I’m able to spot my own toxic crap and work on being a better version of me. I can’t change things in the past, but I can learn from them and hope to pass a positive message on to others that it’s never too late to improve.
In regards to being with your subject and how the majority of male artists have exploited these situations, how do you feel it’s been normalized?
I think it’s f*cked up to be honest. Listen, if it’s consensual and you guys are hot and bothered then go for it. Roll around in paint and clap them cheeks Who cares at that point, but there are too many instances where guys take complete advantage of their subject. I’ve always been very transparent and polite when working with my models. My goal is to create a portrait, but my priority is my subject’s comfort because that comes out in the painting. I also work with people because I’m interested in them outside of the realm of sexuality. If I wanted to sleep with someone, I’d go on tinder or go to a bar. I wouldn’t set up a portrait for 9 months in hopes of getting action and then get pissed off because putting in days of work entitles me to have sex in return since I’m such a “nice guy”.
Already by painting someone, I can see how they’re focused on the final product and that results in partially dehumanizing their model. How many times I’ve heard through out my art career models be spoken as “it” or moved and touch without asking is absolutely wild. If you’re nude, these f*uckboy artists register that as an open invitation. He told you to take your clothes off and his dumbass thinks he’s in control and that you want some. This is what normalizes it to them. It’s not the model’s fault. They’re never “asking for it”. You have artists who don’t know they’re boundaries and ignore the rules of the real world because it’s art. Then we look at all the other artists that came before them and how this has been going on for ages. That’s why it remains to be normalized today and it frustrates the sh*t out of me.
Do you feel we should still be celebrating these artists and the work despite their personal history?
I think we need to work on having the facts stated without having the fear of big collectors being offended. The energy these guys put out is in their work. It’s clear as day and people are picking up on it. That little blurb next to the work, especially for most pieces of Picasso, should be explaining not only the nature of the work but of the artist himself. That tapas sized egocentric king of 20th century art has a museum to himself in Paris and I can promise you there is no written evidence of any wicked deeds. We got his paintings and an outrageously expensive gift shop where for 90 euros you can buy the same stripe shirt he had and look like an insecure little Spanish man with 18 first names.
Remember that the art market loves these guys, so in terms of celebrating their work it’s always going to be a thing. Museums are scared of their billionaire collectors. That fear of losing value for a few extra lines of text in the name of truth transforms these curators into enablers whether they like it or not. What is the best way to separate the art and the artist?. I’d die in peace if I heard an auctioneer introduce a work with “This painting marks the major shift towards post modernism and is a pillar in the foundation of art history, but the artist was a scum bag and may his ass pay for his sins in hell. Opening bid starts at 7 Million”
As hilarious and amazing as that would be to witness, who’s going to buy it? Who wants to own something made by someone so horrible in their personal life? Who’s going to pay 20 euros to go see a show by a guy who fondles his studio interns? With that being said, unfortunately I don’t see a major change coming to the art market anytime soon.
Looking at your work, do you think you’ve made a positive impact when it comes to addressing toxic masculinity?
My paintings have opened up the dialogue for mental health and I feel it’s being noticed more and more by a male audience. Receiving positive messages and guys opening up about their feelings is beyond beautiful. Boys need to know that vulnerability is a strength and it’s okay not to be okay. Masculinity needs to be redefined from all this holding in emotion and being dominant nonsense. It’s poisonous not only to yourself but to others. Bravery doesn’t come from not crying, but from expressing what’s happening inside you. Being vocal to those around you and also being open to them. That’s strength. You can still lift weights and get hyped about race cars while being emotionally aware of yourself and your actions. Learning and unlearning to be a better version of yourself and passing that knowledge on. That’s how change happens and I don’t plan on giving up painting anytime soon.
This interview was originally posted to The Tab UK
For more information and images of his work, visit Armando Cabba’s website http://www.armando-cabba.com/