Dealing With Alternative Forms Of Masculinity In Leonardo Guglielmi’s Paintings

Dealing with multiple sources of inspiration, Leonardo Guglielmi’s iconography results in a depiction of big-format and vividly coloured compositions. His paintings fully cope with the qualities of figuration and particularly the strength of the full body portraiture. At this early stage of his career, the artist has created a coherent painting style that surprisingly evokes an articulate technique and strong visual code on which he develops his characteristic artworks.

Guglielmi puts a serious priority on male figures that seems to dominate his work along with some remarkable feminized attributes. In his latest painting series, each canvas depicts one main male protagonist whose size usually looks gigantic and muscular along with a prevailing attitude covering almost all the surface of the canvas, while plain and monochromatic backgrounds almost always accompany his figures adding a greater contrast. 

Additionally, these characters are situated in captivating captions, dynamically staged in poses full of self-confidence, certainty and provocation. Illustrating personas as if fashionistas, embraced by eccentric, yet stylish looks, fashionable attire and voguish haircuts, the artist visually develops a bold image identity pointing out distinguished temperament on his canvases.

Words: Yannis Kostarias

Leonardo Guglielmi, Juiciest legs in the yakuza,2022, acrylic and chalk on canvas, 120 x 120 cm

Rejecting role-model stereotypes, self-presentation sports as a significant drive in constructing the artist’s characters on canvas developing a provocative visual view as well as projecting brave individuality. High-end fashion trends and elevated references of creativity usually bring up personalities with strong sense of self as in Guglielmi’s artworks. Shirtless bodies, male thongs, big black boots and tattoos consist a noteworthy list of motifs that Guglielmi often aims to emphasise on. In particular, uncommon bodily postures and almost flamboyant attitude or position highlight the unique perspective of Guglielmi’s visual language.

Characteristically, his male figures often appear manly standing on their knees exposing a direct sex drive; a virile point of view is brought up by the artist projecting confident men who are evidently proud of their masculinity. In recent works such as, Mama’s Boy’ (2022), ‘Juiciest legs in the Yakuza’ (2022)and Hopeless romantic’ (2022), the placement of hands and legs is gingerly choreographed by Guglielmi. The use of body language, as a remarkable element of his visual lexicon, helps the painter’s compositions to successfully document the capability of a shameless self-expression. Having a lot of parameters to observe on his paintings, his characters’ full body presentation is another additional point to keep an eye on, while captivating the viewers’ gaze even further. The artist does not point out any particular part of his figures’ bodies, instead he emphasises on eccentric entities.

In his recent work, each painting conveys an autonomous figuration with a defined arrangement of aesthetic analogies that includes shared gestures, body forms and motifs. Guglielmi’s paintings employ an examination of the human body through a particular angle; having said this, same artistic style and techniques usually take over his artworks and help to build specific forms of male bodies through a picky stylised prism; originality, peculiarity and a sturdy physique. On the contrary, in previous works, such as The People’s republic (of China), Lacoste boy, Taigers, or Lover Boy, the artist put an emphasis on the upper body parts while creating a series of heads. Technically speaking, overall his body of work has been sprayed with acrylic paint and that makes it a common ground in Guglielmi’s imagery. Pastel hues and warm colours usually contrast his colourful monochromatic backgrounds in the artist’s palette. Nudish, redish or pinking chromatic combinations contribute to a balanced visual composition enhancing the engagement and final understanding of his painting outcome.

Observing the artist’s works from a further distance, the viewer has optically the chance to enjoy how Guglielmi celebrates the storytelling of masculinity rendered by his own aesthetics and modern point of view. Despite the eccentric looks, all figures cannot be only perceived as fantastical characters that came directly from the painter’s mind; instead they could present attributes of a real human being portrait. Their rigorous structure successfully develops a statement of aliveness disturbing traditional views about male masculinity. Creatures like them are not only hidden in a dreamlike unreality, but their identities bring strong qualities that can easily be seen in the real world today.

Leonardo Guglielmi, Portrait

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

I usually rather not touch the canvas if I don’t have any type of inspiration. Inspiration comes in different shapes and forms, sometimes its a set of references I want to use, sometimes it’s a whole concept that I want to put down on a surface. I usually start off sketching with chalks that I then spread out with a wet cloth into the canvas, then I start blocking off areas with the airbrush. Most of the time, the whole concept changes while working on it, as that’s the time I get most creative. and that the final result! A Hybrid between what I initially pictured and what came thru while working on it.

How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?

I’d like for my work to be Fresh, Edgy, somewhat Aggressive or Pushy.

Could you share with us some insights on your painting ‘Hopeless Romantic’ (2022)? Is there any particular story behind this new work?

The main thing you can notice about Hopeless romantic is that, while carrying in style and topic similar things to my previous works and focus, it started off a new phase in my paintings. It feels more mature and deep, and stylistically it made me discover something that I have been studying and evolving ever since. I am extremely great full for that piece. It was the result of me not being able to be in my studio producing and working for as long as 8 weeks, then it was made as the first painting after this long break. And I guess that really speaks to the importance of taking time off to rest, regroup, reflect.

Leonardo Guglielmi, Hopeless romantic, 2022, acrylic and chalk on canvas, 120 x 120 cm

Spray painting techniques with strong graffiti references seem to dominate the artistry of your recent body of your work; Is this your current creative style of work or would it be something more significant and meaningful that you wish to further excel in the future?

I love the concept of creating a back story to the story while working on a subject. I like to do that by having my subjects showing off specific stylistic traits about them, like a specific piece of clothing that may or may not be referential to a fashion house, tattoos, hairstyle that helps build a more complete character inside the subject. It helps create the feeling that they are the reflection of a real person that has a past, a story to tell, more than just being a mannequin created for the sole purpose of posing in the painting. I’d like to excel in doing this and carrying it in future body of works, doing storytelling with my subjects and creating a sense of familiarity between the viewer and the subject by doing that.

Male figures seem to dominate your recent body work; is it a current motif or is there any particular reason for concentrating on male representation on your canvases?

While male figured dominate my current body of works, I always try to find a way to feminize them, using clothing mostly. A lot of them feature hight hells, maybe a skirt or a crop top. I find the process of using big bulky man as subject and then stripping them down of their “classic” masculinity fascinating.

The protagonists on your canvases seem to have a self-confident attitude as well as an eccentric outlook; what were your thoughts about the identity of those male figures? Is there any a broader thinking about the limits of gender roles, stereotypes or expectations that you are trying to deal with or none of these parameters have to do with your work or your characters?

While the process is always about missing a masculine looking character with typically female accessories or clothing, as a Queer man I find this quite interesting, and it does speak to gender roles or norms that in nowadays society I find toxic or limiting on ones identity. I enjoy dressing up toxic masculinity with a pink skirt and if in the process I make someone feel seen or understood I would be very happy about it.

Do specific artworks have been created by random experiments in your studio or do you usually come up with a particular concept or narrative in the very beginning of your artistic process?

It can honestly be both. Some of my best works (in my opinion) have been the result of a more free style approach but most of them are instead following a narrative or a topic I’m exploring. I rather follow the second approach more, as it makes everything feels more cohesive and complete, and makes the viewer understand more what you as an artist are about.

What would be the best way to exhibit your work?

This has never happened before, but it has been in my mind ever since I started working in art. I would love for one of my show to include a performance on the side. It could be different types of performances, maybe a fashion catwalk, in tune with fashion pieces in my paintings, or just having models dressed up or looking like my subjects. This is just one of the ideas I have, I won’t share my favorite one just yet, as I still hope it might be included in one of my upcoming solo shows for 2023!

Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?

Gao Hang is one of my favorites. I love the style and the topics he displays and works on, an inspiration!

What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?

As an emerging artist still figuring things out, I currently have a shared studio space with a local artist (I live in China). While it is a shared space I was very fortunate to find it as having a separate space to work at is vital. The space I work in needs to allow me to temporarily detach myself from whatever is going on in my life and focus. My studio space right now looks messy, full of plants, and there is a cat in it!

Which are your plans for the near future?

I have a couple of solo shows in the schedules for 2023 which I am very exited about. Beside that, I do hope to get a residency that will allow me to really take a break from regular work and focus on what’s to come in regards of my practice. I hope to get that time to solely focus on my development and evolution.

Additional Images

Leonardo Guglielmi, Kelvin likes crocodile boots, 2022, acrylic and chalk on canvas, 120 x 120 cm
Leonardo Guglielmi, Mama’s boy, 2022, acrylic and chalk on canvas, 120 x 120 cm
All images courtesy of the artist & PlanX gallery

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