Ink on paper, 2016
22 x 15”
In Canto XII, Dante and Virgil descend a steep slope and encounter at the bottom the mythic Minotaur, a beast with the head of a bull and body of a man. They are in the first ring of the Circle of the Violent, that which holds those who have committed violence against others.
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The carnal essence of the Minotaur has alternately thrilled and terrified me since my earliest years. If there's an embodiment of the anxiety I experienced in a sexually repressed childhood (and much of adulthood) it would be this creature, with the physique of a dangerously muscled, hyper-masculine man, topped off with a smoky black bull's head, its dark features obscured by shadows and fur. The half-man/half-beast trope permeated my already anxious brain in many incarnations—including that of a lizard-man known as a Gorn, battling Captain Kirk on Star Trek. It was also fodder for a shitload of bad dreams. In retrospect, it's ridiculous that I would have been afraid of a guy in a plastic reptile suit, gingerly tossing fake punches at William Shatner, but it really did terrify me as a five year-old.
A little history: I grew up with crippling self-consciousness about my body. I thought that my morbid shyness about it was in some way an index to inferior masculinity, and it remained with me until I first had sex in college. I dreaded going to the beach, turned down many a pool party invitation. It's dissipated over the years and these days I'm pretty relaxed about my body (although there's certainly a ridiculously flawed logic to feeling less self-conscious about the body I have at 54).
It started with my budding awareness of myself as a sexual being, I think, and that must have been at about age seven or eight. Growing up in a working class neighborhood in the South, I was at all times surrounded by boys who ran shirtless, dirty and unashamed of their bodies, and I both admired and feared their masculinity. Our equality (or perhaps my sense of intellectual superiority—I had what most of them didn't have, or at least I thought I did) existed only above the shoulders. No qualms about showing my head—it was a nice head, not bad looking, and it had nothing to do with sexuality. Funny things came out of my mouth from time-to-time, and I liked to show off with my face. The anxiety reached its peak in middle and high school years, when the same boys began to regard themselves as post-pubescent studs, exacerbating my insecurities.
But when you put a fecund, ferocious animal's head on an already sexualized, brutal body—primed to do violence against sensitive men—you eradicate intellect. Its mind has been supplanted with thoughtless force, and that's pretty scary.
When I began this drawing, I was reminded of the many depictions I had seen over the years, all of which used the body of the Minotaur to echo beastly savagery, a fitting partner to the bull's head. But, from the start, my impulse was to allow the body to be gently erotic, youthful and delicately drawn with lines that virtually disappear into the page. A grateful nod to Aubrey Beardsley, absolutely, but I hope it's more than imitation of a stylistic convention. I suppose it could have been driven by a latent enjoyment of male nudity, or maybe it's a taming of the beast that scared me so much as a boy. Not sure.