Twin Cities artist gives talk on new exhibit, arts careers

“It was still wet. It’s never been cleaned,” Joe Sinness said, laughing as he discussed the urinal, ripped from the walls of Target Center, featured prominently in his new exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, “the Flowers.” 

On Oct. 9 at 7 p.m., Minneapolis artist Joe Sinness visited St. Olaf to discuss his latest exhibit and overall trajectory in his career as a visual artist.

Originally getting his start at St. John’s, Sinness later got his MFA in Studio Art at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

Sinness’ preferred medium is colored pencil, with which he makes hyper-realistic drawings reflecting on and critiquing societal perceptions of the queer experience. In his work, Sinness draws mostly from images he can find online – from Google searches to movie stills to pornography – but has increasingly made use of real-life models.

Sinness gathered material for his first solo exhibition, “Fey,” during his Fire Island Artist Residency in 2015. Here, Sinness and other queer artists lived and created on this historic gay enclave, just outside of New York City. Leaving the residency and going back to the straight world was a huge shock to Sinness’ system, but he took the connections and skills he learned and applied them to his art.

Sinness’ first exhibit, “Fey,” at Macalester College, featured men he met during his residency at Fire Island. “Fey” showcased and dramatized queer culture in not only its subject matter but also in the words used to describe it. Sinness appropriated a common slur for the title of his exhibition. Sinness also titled each of his “excessively refined and precious” pieces, depicting still lifes straight from gay male domesticity, with a word in Polari. Polari is a secret language used among circus performers and queer people in the United Kingdom. 

After his first exhibit, Sinness was offered the opportunity to have a show sponsored by the Minnesota Artists Exhibition, of which he later served on the panel. Through their support, Sinness created his most recent exhibition, “the Flowers.”

In “the Flowers,” Sinness tears apart and reworks queer stereotypes in media. Perhaps his most striking piece in “the Flowers” is the one with the urinal: “Theme.” Directly behind the urinal is a large-scale, hyper-realistic drawing of a scene from the 1980 film “Cruising.” The scene in “Cruising” shows cops at a bar, ready to interrogate gay criminals. However in his rendition, Sinness makes them active participants in homosexuality, suggestively licking their batons and showing their butts.

Sinness said he wanted to reclaim the cops’ “macho fascist energy” for pleasure. Only the individual viewer can decide whether they find the scene funny or sensual or uncomfortable, but it draws them in nonetheless. 

Sinness reworks Hollywood aesthetic to serve his own purposes in other features of the gallery, giving real-life models or porn stars backgrounds straight out of an old Hollywood set, like in his piece “Devin.” The pink sky and fluffy clouds behind the hyper-realistic drawing of the model feel as though it could have been taken from a 1950s musical.

Anyone with an interest in old Hollywood or gay culture should visit Sinness’ exhibition at the MIA, which is running until Oct. 29.