Ancient Greek art meets Queer guru James Unsworth

He describes himself as an artist who makes work about popular print history, the carnivalesque and how sexy fat guys are. He also makes movies on YouTube that get removed. In his latest project he uses these ancient Greek compositions as the starting point for his own drawings using models sourced from Instagram focusing on fat femme, fat trans, fat POC and fat GNC bodies. He also combines opposite elements especially masculinity and femininity to represent fat gay men who are sexual and desirable.  And this is how all taboos and boundaries are broken!

This is James Unsworth! Exclusively in YASS!

James Unsworth is the new Instagram sensation, but little is known about you. Who is James?

Now I wouldn’t describe myself as an Instagram sensation, I know people with way more followers than me who are totally irrelevant. I am however an artist who makes work about popular print history, the carnivalesque and how sexy fat guys are.

Please tell me about your latest project with ancient Greek inspired homoerotic illustrations. How did you decide to draw naked men as ancient Greeks?

The source images for this project are over 2000 years old and these Ancient Greek ceramics contain some of the earliest depictions of men having sex with men but much like the present day art world you’d be mistaken for thinking that there was only one male body type in existence. I’m using these ancient compositions as the starting point for my own drawings using models sourced from Instagram focusing on fat femme, fat trans, fat POC and fat GNC bodies.

Your website is dedicated to old vintage bear floral gay erotica. Is this a project you are working on or is it a personal collection of favourite images?

Those Bulk Male Flower Collages are from an evolving project called Girth and Mirth, they’re an ongoing series of hand cut collages. In this series I’m looking at opposites, (in the same way that the grotesque is a combination of horror and humour) I’m trying to combine opposite elements especially masculinity and femininity, they’re also a presentation of fat gay men who are sexual and desirable. 

How does the LGBTQ community feel they relate to your art work?

I haven’t ever exhibited in LGBTQIA+ spaces before to specifically LGBTQIA+ audiences but I know from the reactions of people who have contributed to this Greek ceramics series that they’re excited to see something that allows different body types to be visible and celebrated. I imagine many mainstream gay men will just want to see another photograph of a muscly white guy doing something masc.

Who are your favourite (homoerotic or not) artists and your inspirations?

Obviously growing up in the 80’s and 90’s Tom of Finland was a big homoerotic influence but more broadly I’m a fan of Hogarth, Bosch and Brueghel. The level of detail and narrative nature of these artists remind me of the comic books that I collected when I was younger, way before I thought I could be an artist. Bulk Male magazine and the photography within it are clearly an important source of inspiration too. I still collect comics, zines and magazines and am still very inspired by various aspects of print culture. I’m usually a fan of anybody who is making work that includes a diverse representation of male bodies, artists like James Gobel, Kyle Quinn, Joseph Ridgeon, Christopher Schulz and Jason Villegas, the writing of Jason Whitesel and Les Wright inform my work too. Let me know if your readers know of any other artists working in this area. Also, I want to add in Mickey Aloisio, Graham Kolbeins and Anne Ishii of MASSIVE to the list of inspirations!

What do you feel most proud of?

Career wise I’m not sure if I’m ever satisfied or proud, I’m not sure how useful pride is in this context. I did build my husband an office at the bottom of our garden which gave me a real sense of achievement. 

Who are your biggest fans and what is your target group?

I had a couple of books published by Ditto Press over the last ten years one of them was called Ninja Turtle Sex Museum the other was called Dead Boys. Ninja Turtle Sex Museum had lots of fans before VIACOM tried to sue me to death and it’s existence was suppressed. My real target group is mainstream gallery audiences who have never been exposed to the fact that fat gay men exist.

Is humour important to your artwork?

I like to combine humour with other experiences. I don’t want my work to be purely humorous or purely erotic. I want to combine different elements. I think it makes things way more interesting.

How has the social media platform era helped your career?

Instagram has allowed me to connect with a network of collaborators from all over the world who slide into my DMs to send me noodz that I draw. What this means for my career is yet to be seen but it would have taken me much longer to make this series without that level of virtual connectivity.

How do people react to your designs?

I would imagine that people react in varying ways. I think most artists want to be told that what they’ve made is amazing/beautiful/smart etc. and that’s all fine but I really value negative reactions to my work too. I like to think that I’ve  provoked some kind of reaction. I’m not a fan of subtlety and the worst reaction I can imagine is ambivalence.

Why is nudity such a hot topic on social media?

Because if you look at an image of someone else’s genitals you go to hell. Actually I suppose it’s because there are platforms that can’t control the age appropriateness of content so there’s an imperfect compromise between young people being safeguarded and censorship. Maybe there should be adult platforms and separate platforms for younger people. 

What has been the most glorious moment in your career?

I’m not seeking glory but I recognise that I’ve been lucky to get this far and still be making work and answering questions about it.

What is the most unexpected comment you have received from a fan?

Somebody commented on one of my Ninja Turtle Sex Museum videos ‘You should be killed by a rabid bear’ luckily I find it really funny to receive criticism from people I don’t know.

What are your future plans?

As well as finishing off the Greek ceramic series I’m working on my next two books of drawings ‘Fat Guys are the Best’ and ‘Fat Guys are the Worst’. I’m also working on more Bulk Male Flower Collages and some early Bear Magazine inspired zines. I’ve got a lot of work to do.

More of James Unsworth here:

*all images are courtesy of James Unsworth

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