Johnathan Payne

Payne on his Work: 


In my art practice, I explore themes surrounding embodied identity, specifically my racialized and engendered body, through various processes and materials. Drawing, performance, installation, and sculpture make up my interdisciplinary practice. This series, Constructions, developed from an ongoing interest to appropriate comic books in my work, which began after I discovered the work of Ray Yoshida, a Chicago Imagist painter, in 2011. I make tapestry-like collages that attempt to evoke the vulnerability, complexity and tactility intrinsic to particular embodied identities. These evocations are manifested through color, pattern, and material. I play with color and pattern in different ways depending on the cartoons I choose, and what ideas I’m trying to specifically represent. Repetitive, time-intensive processes are embedded within the work, and I play with large scale to explore intricacy and monumentality of material and theme. Ultimately, I attempt to transform the material into something unconventional.

Though my relationship to comic books and the larger culture is broad, I have a desire to examine the complex politics that I believe are imbedded in them. The lack of representation of women, people of color, and queer characters (or, the stereotypical depictions of such characters) throughout the history of comic books is something that I want to critique. Currently, the industry is confronting the structural white heteronormativity embedded within the genre by creating new characters and narratives that are diverse. This can be seen in the re-launch of The Black Panther series, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, among other examples. This is a stride, but more needs to be done to shift the culture. I strongly believe occupying a minority identity is very parallel to the experience of a superhero. To me, superheroes exist in - albeit gender-conforming at times - queer bodies, and are tasked to navigate within a particular double-consciousness of human vs. superhuman. They hold a strong amount of physical power, yet are vulnerable and susceptible to emotional turmoil. They are reflective, critical, and truly seek to effect change in the world. To see superheroes in this way is to understand how they exist within a queer framework. This allows me to think about my Constructions as critical re-imaginings as well.