Gay Atlanta artist Anthony Griego's work screams sex. Ripped abs, bulging biceps and bare chests. But look a little deeper and you'll see that he's holding up a mirror to gay men and their struggle with the modern conventions of masculinity.
What you see when you look into the mirror depends solely on your experiences, though. On the surface, Greigo isn't shy about the sex appeal of his work. But gaze some more and you might also find yourself pondering the artwork’s subtext. I did.
Do we, as gay men, objectify each other (and ourselves)? When will standing out be the new fitting in? Have we all been manipulated by the machinations of media and masculinity? Tough questions with even tougher answers that we discussed with Griego as we chatted about his art, beauty and whether or not gay men are obsessed with predefined masculinity.
From Las Vegas to Arkansas and now Atlanta. What brought you here?
Well, I grew up in Las Vegas. When I was 22, I moved to Arkansas to go to Arkansas State University to complete my BFA in Studio Art. When I graduated in December, I decided that I needed to make a change and moved to Atlanta on a whim. Country life is taxing on my psyche, so I moved from a town with only two meth labs to a city where they outsource their supply. Atlanta has a great art community and I plan on pursuing my master’s at Georgia State in the coming year, so we’ll see how long I plan on staying.
Do those diverse locations bring something unique to your work?
Oh, absolutely. Living on the West Coast instilled a sense of blithe whimsy and a rough aesthetic in my work when I first started to take it seriously. I grew up very quickly – probably too quickly – and my young adult life was riddled with a bunch of alarming experiences I would often recant with a tongue-in-cheek tone and demeanor. Moving to Arkansas and attending ASU humbled me considerably and it really gave me an opportunity to take a really, really, really, really big step back down a dirt road and through a makeshift meth lab to reevaluate and assess what I was doing and reassess my goals and ideals. With Atlanta well, we’ll just see how that progresses.
For someone who has never experienced your work before, how would you sell it?
My work is both figurative (deals with the human figure) and abstract (a corruption of what we perceive to be “natural”). I deconstruct, remove, rearrange and reassemble multiple photographs into one single entity and use this collage as a mock-up for what the finished piece will ultimately look like.
As far as subject matter, I choose to depict the contemporary male form as it chooses to represent itself – as an object, rather than an individual. I work a lot from pornography and fashion, removing each person from his original context, which makes for these humorous and awkward caricatures or men that we absentmindedly idolize.
The Artist Statement on your website struck a chord as I think people struggle with the persona they present. Can you explain it a bit further?
In my experience, the gay community has inherent issues pertaining to self-worth, confidence and projection. We are frequently subjected to hate and intolerance during our youth and we develop facades to mask our “weaknesses.” These facades deal with themes such as masculinity versus femininity, sobriety, HIV, overall wellbeing and popularity. In the end, these facades become a crutch and an insurmountable and unbreakable wall.
Do you think as gay men, we are too obsessed with pre-defined masculinity?
Absolutely. As outsiders, we strive for a sense of normalcy. In this case, normalcy equates to equal treatment from and amongst our heterosexual counterparts. We have been raised to achieve normalcy by blending in and keeping a low brow. For some, this is easy – they work out, have their straight bros to chill with and drink beer, whatever. They know the game, the lingo, how to be “straight-acting.” But for some, this persona does not come naturally and they are dubbed fey, weak, faggots that love gymnastics, hairdressing and Britney. Ironically, many of these straight-acting guys slink off to bars and clubs to act out on their subjugated, dirty desire that we have been taught is wrong, which kind of evens out the playing field.
How has being HIV-positive impacted your work?
I think my status has provided me with another reason to question and deconstruct what conventional beauty is. I feel that those afflicted with HIV have it harder than people who are negative, even though there really shouldn’t be any reason to feel that way. I feel that people who are aesthetically and outwardly attractive have an unfair advantage over those who are not, but that’s just how things are, I suppose. People will always find something wrong with something in order to bring us down a peg, and I learned that working my aggression out through my work really gave me a chance to assess my demons with the disease and my passive aggressive aggressors.
What sort of conversation do you hope that your work will spark?
If one’s work isn’t creating a dialogue, then it’s doing a disservice to the community that supports it. Honestly, I’d really like the homosexual viewer to step back and self-assess. I am elated if I can get a guy to step back and think, “Oh, God. Is that me?” I really do feel that despite their outward appearance, there is a sense of this overly theatrical, desperate person that yearns for acceptance inside all of us.
As an artist, how do you define beauty? Is there a perfect guy?
I don’t think there is any way to define beauty without sounding cliché. I do believe there is a difference between inward beauty and personal beauty versus conventional aesthetics, sure. There is beauty in standing up for what you believe in. There is beauty in seeing things in such a way that causes others to question their own tastes. I find that there is beauty in creating my own commentary about what predefined conventional/ideal beauty is and deconstructing it into something that causes people to view it in a new light.