Abel Baker Gutierrez’s work explores the way images acquire different meaning over time and the overlapping systems that shape perceptions about the archetypal male. Taking inspiration from rock music's aesthetic trends to Scout culture and Old Master paintings, Gutierrez utilizes a diverse range of source material to create paintings, photographs, sculpture and video installations loaded with potential interpretations. His recent work reflects upon society’s obsession with youth culture, issues of “growing up”, and ideals of masculinity, yet these subjects are negotiated through a visual vocabulary that effectively blurs the distinction between social critique and melancholic nostalgia.
Gutierrez’s newest body of work, presented in this series titled Swimming, is comprised of oil paintings and a video installation that looks to Scouting culture and the Realist traditions of bathers (e.g., Courbet, Millet) for point of reference. Inspired by painters such as Thomas Eakins and Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, who painted adolescent figures engaged in outdoor activities during the Victorian era, Gutierrez’s own subjects are decontextualized from a specific temporal or social scenario—unaware of the contemporary viewer’s idealizing, eroticizing, and prejudicial gaze.
This complicity of the physical, perceptual, and philosophical—classical painterly techniques, art historical references, and 20th century Scout ideologies—operate as an inquiry into the complex structures of masculine hegemony (issues dealing with learning and performing gender; definitions of masculine behavior), ideas about continuity, and prompts the viewer to reevaluate his or her position in ever-shifting social constructs.
Based on black-and-white and color photographs sourced from 1950s and 60s scouting manuals and magazines as well as found film footage, Gutierrez’s appropriated images from this bygone era further underscore a sense of ambiguity and ephemerality. Intimately scaled and emotionally charged, his new work portrays slight and languid figures set against an atmosphere of peril. Using contrasting layers of thin and dark glazes, loosely rendered figures of young men and boys occupy amorphous bodies of water, build rafts, and demonstrate rescue breathing techniques. Evoking a sense of the uncanny, the figures are removed from their original context through the ritual of brushstroke, and in the case of his video, digitization. In the video, a found color film excerpt of boys playing is transformed into a slow moving and haunting silvery digital specter.