A Little Riot: Matthew McMilon's Re-Presentation of Gender Identity

"Chalon," 2014, Digital C-Print, 44x30
"Chalon," 2014 Digital C-Print, 44 x 30.

Matthew McMilon wants you to see it all. And he's not afraid to show it.

With a bold marriage of his passion for sociology, gender and sexuality studies, Matthew McMilon's art is a bit like walking into a stranger's house for the first time. Each work echoes something private, moving and all too familiar. McMilon deftly presents moments of transitional intimacy.

Born and raised in the Inland Empire, McMilon's formal art education first began when he attended and later graduated from the University of La Verne with a B.A. in 2008, dual majoring in Studio Art and Gender Studies. Upon completing his degree McMilon took up a few odd jobs including employment with non-profit organizations as well as a brief stint as a hairstylist. Ultimately deciding to further his education in the arts by pursuing a Master's degree, McMilon teetered between moving back east to attend rural Vermont's Goddard College and California State University San Bernardino's MFA program. McMilon was eventually won over by the prospect of a larger studio space while being able to remain close to his family, and so the 32-year old visual artist entered into his first year of graduate school in San Bernardino.

&quot;Moonlight Bay,&quot; 2014, Sculptural Performance, Dimensions Vary<br /> Vintage Negative, Scanned and Enlarged
"Moonlight Bay," 2014, sculptural performance, dimensions vary, vintage negative, scanned and enlarged.

For McMilon, the largest influence for his work remains as a constant search in finding ways to tear down preconceived notions revolving around gender and sexuality. Specifically in regards to his most recent works is an attempt to conjoin all of the different mediums he currently works with, including photography, painting, and clay. Most heavily influenced by interdisciplinary and multi-media artists, a few of his personal icons include Ida Applebroog, English artist Tracey Emin and Frida Kahlo. The artists who interest him include, as McMilon puts it, "anyone that blends personal elements. That's the kind of artist that I strive to be. Someone who's not afraid to overshare or say too much. I try to put things out there and not care too much about the consequences."

As for working and creating art in San Bernardino, work that often deals with issues pertaining to the LGBTQIA community, there's a small revolutionary struggle that takes place within McMilon's studio every day. But rather than fleeing to produce art in more openly liberal cities such as San Francisco, McMilon has instead chosen to be inspired by his surroundings and work through the barriers others might not choose to cross.

Matthew McMilon in his Studio Space
Matthew McMilon in his studio space.

"I think that all of us in this area are constantly being belittled and scrutinized because of where we come from and that this is basically seen as a less than environment," he says. "I think it's totally untrue and I'd like to dispel some of those myths. But, at the same time, I do feel like this is a very oppressive place, a very homophobic place, a very racist and sexist place. Still, I prefer to stay where I'm at and try to have a little riot."

With a whirlwind of intimate, behind the scenes looks into McMilon's personal life, the artist's unabashed candor translates into moving poetry, depicting a life of pain and joy that anyone of any gender or sexual orientation can find relatable whether that work reflects the untimely demise of a relationship or the beauty shared within a lover's arms.

His recent solo exhibition, "Re-Presentations" at The Dutton Family Gallery in San Bernardino is a nod to this idea, perpetually luring the viewer into a brief, yet detailed glance into his private affairs, sharing everything from a nude embrace to a re-polished engagement ring.

The Invocation and Subsequent Burial of your Ghost, 2014, Sculptural Performance, Dimensions Vary, Biodegradable Water Burial Urn
The Invocation and Subsequent Burial of your Ghost, 2014, sculptural performance, dimensions vary, biodegradable water burial urn.
Courtesy of Matthew McMilon.
Photo: Courtesy of Matthew McMilon.

Among the works included within "Re-Presentations" are a few modestly sized paintings that exude a fluidity that mimics the re-occurring theme of transition, metamorphosing from a soft, flat use of color to more impasto styled compositions. Joyfully splatted with strips of pink, silver and white that have dried while dripping down the canvas, each painting is juxtaposed alongside performance stills depicting those closest to McMilon. A best friend of 15 years poised bare and an out of focus significant other at rest are among those included. With photographs that blur the lines of femininity and masculinity, the subjects' ambiguously gendered bodies shine through with a sort of bittersweet gentleness that could only be conveyed by someone close enough to care. Moving through an array of mediums that transcend the first, second, and third dimension, McMilon's sculptural works such as "Moonlight Bay," "2014" and "The Invocation and Subsequent Burial of Your Ghost, 2014" delicately outline the decay of McMilon's decade long relationship, each vessel preparing for its inevitable May, 2014 burial at sea.

With a body of work that explores not only aspects specific to McMilon's own life experiences but re-examines queer identity entirely, his art remains invigorated with a lasting vibration that consistently walks the line between gender politics and autobiographical narrative.

Courtesy of Matthew McMilon
Photo: Courtesy of Matthew McMilon.
Courtesy of Matthew McMilon
Photo: Courtesy of Matthew McMilon.

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