Exhibition Football: Designing the Beautiful Game
JJ Guest: 'IN SHIRTS NOT SINNING'
Visual artist JJ Guest talks about his creative process and the inspiration behind the new works from his series 'IN SHIRTS NOT SINNING', commissioned by the Design Museum to celebrate Pride in London.
Can you talk to us about your journey and career in design and motion graphics?
I’ve always been creative. I was constantly drawing and making things as a child, I even remember trying to teach myself to draw left-handed after breaking my arm, it wasn’t much good, but I tried. It wasn’t until towards the end of my degree, when a creative agency in NY reached out to me and asked me to work on some videos for Prada, that I’d say my career properly began though. From there I’ve been fortunate enough to make work for the likes of Calvin Klein, Vivienne Westwood, Bottega Veneta and Hermes to name a few. I then began utilising the digital skills I’d learned to design and make physical sculptures and have been exhibiting at Eastside Projects in Birmingham and more recently at OOF Gallery alongside artists like Sarah Lucas and Hank Willis Thomas.
What was the inspiration behind this series of works?
These videos are part of a series titled ‘IN SHIRTS NOT SINNING’. I started making these décollaged compositions a few years ago after seeing an article that was titled something like “funny gay football moments”. I remember questioning why it was okay for Gary Neville and Paul Scholes to embrace each other, so openly (and open-mouthed), but I have to keep that sort of thing hidden and behind closed doors? There’s this hypocrisy of what’s acceptable on and off the pitch, this protection that wearing a football shirt provides.
What was the creative process for this?
I begin by finding the images, either in old news articles, and various queer blogs/websites or sometimes through people sending them to me, which is always great. As much as my work at times veers into homoeroticism, with this series, I’m looking for moments that have a certain sensitivity. They need to feel like they’re rooted in love, romance even. It’s important to also destigmatize men being physically affectionate with each other, regardless of their sexual identity, and I hope this series does that. These videos are also an insight into my process for creating physical works. Most projects begin digitally, to test scale and composition, and this also gives me time to sit with the questions, frustrations and fears that I’m trying to work through. These ‘soft’ images are contrasted by being cut and printed onto ‘tough’ metals and other industrial materials. I grew up in Birmingham, so there’s something cathartic about working with manufacturers and industrial companies there to produce queer-focused art.
A lot of your work interrogates contemporary masculinities in areas such as football, doesn't it?
To me, masculinity as a concept is a way in which power is signified and enforced, with its most effective mechanism being destruction. It encourages us to destroy and alter who we are, and what we like, and who we like, and what we do, it’s corrosive and ultimately everyone suffers as a result. Queerness threatens this idea of power, it offers an alternative, and I think that scares most people. It would leave everyone a little lost, but there’s freedom in that, and I think that’s ultimately what I’m searching for in my work. By appropriating the imagery and language of football in particular, I’m trying to force people to consider why they hold the views that they do. If you’re able to accept footballers hugging and kissing their teammates, then you can also accept gay men holding hands whilst out in public.
As a queer artist, does Jake Daniel’s recent coming out leave you with the hope that others might feel comfortable talking about sexuality in that space?
Of course! What Jack did was incredibly brave. I think one of the main reasons that sexuality in sports is still such a taboo subject is because, if men can be successful footballers and gay it unlinks masculinity and heteronormativity, and in turn, undermines the entire belief system that protects the majority of men. This means that it will always be met with bigotry and fear. However, if more players like Jack were to share and be open about their sexuality, then maybe queer people can know and experience this sense of protection too. Visibility in these spaces can only be a good thing, but this needs to be in tangent with greater commitments by the football institutions to support and protect queer players and fans.