Defining queer art is difficult, as the term is fluid, mirroring the sexual and gender identities it encompasses - is queer art queer because of the artist, the audience, or even the subject? Dylan Meade has an innate desire to challenge the limitations of the title ‘queer artist’. “In my mind, I don’t like this subscribing to an identity, rather I just like to make work,” he says.
Growing up in Galway as a teenager during the 1990’s, Dylan discovered an interest in “muscular, half-naked men”. Films such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the art of Tom of Finland always caught his eye. “Maybe I was just a really horny kid or maybe I was just naturally drawn to them,” he jokingly comments.
Identity politics was not the direction Dylan originally envisioned for himself. Even though it has given him fertile ground to create art he feels passionately about. “It always has to come back around into a circling of my sexuality and my personal identity,” he shares. Dylan’s oil paintings are a testament to his desire to push back against these views, as the male subject is submerged in vibrant colours and become secondary to his unique art style. Pressed between two sheets of cling film or plastic, his technique keeps “paints looking wet and fresh, giving it a different surface”.
Dylan began experimenting with the style in the last two years of his studies in Painting and Printmaking at Glasgow School of Art. It was born out of the chance to work swiftly and with relative cost efficiency, sometimes he would create a frame out of metal poles and allow the painting to flap in the wind.
Money is an obstacle for many artists because, though they work in a field they love, making a steady income is a question which presents a constant dread. Due to the tuition of Scottish universities being free for EU or Scottish students on their first degree, Dylan was presented with an opportunity to study abroad. However the familiar dread of money was at play in the back of his mind - “I get the opportunity to go to college for free and I may be wasting it on something that is never going to make me money.”
Pilot Press London, an imprint of the artist Richard Dodwell, is a queer press promoting queer art from the UK and around the world. In 2018, they published a collection of Dylan’s paintings after witnessing his graduation show. They “immediately fell for his sensitive depictions of the naked male body, his use of soft tones and the unabashed, overt queer sexuality that pervades his work”, according to their Instagram account.
In 2019, fresh out of university, Dylan had his first solo show, Transformations, at the New Art Centre, London. The Centre described his art as “glimpses into a hidden world of desire, and permission, where the erotic has been unleashed”. Accompanying the exhibition of his artwork, Fredrik Anderson had a display of his pottery while Sue Tilley’s paintings decorated the walls of an adjoining room.
“I was hoping for some scathing reviews to be honest. I thought it would be kind of fun if anyone went to see something and it was fucking terrible. But people seemed to like it,” Dylan says.
Though Dylan has seen a positive reaction to his work and success in selling pieces, he can’t help but wonder if he would gain further public interest if the subjects were nude women rather than nude men. “I’m not sure if it’s too gay, or if it’s too pornographic, or if it’s just not to people’s taste.”
Previously, Dylan worked in collaboration with Robert Softely Gale, an actor and playwright, to produce the ten minute short - Robert + Dylan - a groundbreaking exploration into the representation of disabled bodies in pornography. The film was the first project of the Glasgow School of Art Pornography Society, set up by Dylan in 2014. The short was shown in MIX LGBTQ Film Festival in 2018 and at porn film festivals in London, Vienna and Berlin.
Art will always transcend boundaries and labels
Attending porn film festivals across the world has deeply impacted Dylan’s own work. Watching the Dark Porn Shorts on display in the Berlin Porn Film Festival, usually involving some form of artistic intervention like drawings or poetry, inspired him to create “something moody”.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes was a collaborative piece between Dylan and filmmaker Lasse Langstrom. The film goes beyond narrative, intercutting between chemsex, homemade pornographic movies, and a coven of witches.
Dylan does not work with storyboards throughout the filming process, instead after completing filming he will pick scenes which he likes. His movies become a collage which he harmonises through the editing process. This highlights his desire to “focus a bit more on how we got here where pornography exists and how we can interact with it now by making it or playing with it or working with it in different ways”.
Disrupting the lines between reality and narrative, Dylan situates himself firmly within Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by inserting scenes from his own homemade sex tapes. As part of the movie, he engaged in a ‘vase in ass sex magic’ ritual. In a biographical piece of writing, he outlined the scene, saying, “The group leaned in to kiss my cheeks goodbye, leaving lipstick marks covering my skin and a bruised bouquet dangling out of my asshole in front of the faux river on the wall behind”.
Queer art has made considerable progress in terms of visibility, however it can exert a heavy pressure on an artist in terms of what is expected of them, especially when queer art and fine art merge. There is a continuous debate within society over what is considered fine art and what should or should not be shown to the public. “It’s messy. Is it not fine art if it’s real life?” Dylan asks. Along with a willingness to explore deeper personal themes and explicit material regarding sexuality, society responds by trying to re-find the line.
Queer art is not simply undefinable but it’s also intensely rebellious by nature. It challenges itself within a permanent state of contradiction. Dylan places his love of the craft first, regardless of whether it is considered fine art, queer art, or pornographic art - “If a painting doesn’t look good to me, I’m not going to put it in just because it’s got a guy spreading his ass cheeks.”
Art will always transcend boundaries and labels. Dylan’s signature technique of colour and plastic goes beyond sexuality and breaks into the realm of form and formlessness, gripping the viewers gaze with a mesmerising tenderness.
Dylan joins a fine lineage of artists who continue to play with expectations and limitations.