You’re Gayer Than a Picnic Basket showcases gay-selfie art by Ian Stone

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You’re Gayer Than a Picnic Basket showcases gay-selfie art by Ian Stone
As you walk towards BBAM! Gallery, an oil painting depicting a half nude man taking a selfie in a shiny, gold, balloon star hangs in the window. The painting is called “Gold Star Gay” — a gay person who has never had intercourse with the opposite sex, according to the Urban Dictionary. 

Inside, past the Québécois new wave vinyl, a few more oil paintings greet you at the entrance to the second room — one shows a husky, bald, bearded man wearing a half-shoulder leather harness, smoking the nub of a cigar as he takes a selfie.

Each painting depicts an individual gay/queer man and is part of a new exhibition from Ian Stone entitled You’re Gayer Than a Picnic Basket. 

“I wanted to make art about what it’s like to be a gay man today, the dating scene — which is mostly lots of selfies, sending themselves bits and pieces of their bodies — and also masculinity and how there’s a lot of toxic masculinity that you have to try to either belong to or avoid online,” says Stone as we sit in the middle of the exhibit. 

The exhibit is small but striking, filled with paintings of men taking half-clothed or fully nude selfies. Some of the men seem empowered while others hide their face. Some wear sparkling and flamboyant clothing while donning thick beards. 

“I’m trying to paint men who are typically very masculine with their beards, but who aren’t afraid of accessorizing to have a bit more femininity to them,” Stone says. “I’m drawn to the fearlessness of these guys … I mean I’ve had beer bottles thrown at me in public, been called ‘faggot’ so many times. There’s something I find special about these guys who are just unapologetically themselves and I think that’s beautiful.” 

From You’re Gayer Than a Picnic Basket by Ian Stone

Stone, an artist from Laval, began exploring homosexuality in his art around three years ago and has been gathering selfies to paint from Instagram and gay dating and hook-up apps. Stone of course asks prospective subjects if he can paint them, and almost everyone says yes.

“It takes about 100 to 150 pictures for me to find one I want to paint,” Stone says. “Very rarely will someone say no. People are vain. They’re impressed, for one, because of the technique, but they want to be immortalized in a sense, on canvas. I think it goes with the whole Instagram culture of wanting to be seen.”

Each portrait is a snapshot into a different person’s life and Stone, a master of still life, captures that snapshot beautifully. These canvases evoke a sense of vulnerability and trust in the viewer — and in Stone, as he has only met a few of his subjects because of pandemic restrictions. Some of the subjects took their photos in the bathroom, some in their bedrooms, some in their living rooms. Others found random objects to pose with.

“There’s that guy,” Stone says as he points to a black and white portrait of a bald man standing in his tub, wearing only his underwear and gripping a plant, roots dripping dirt. “I can’t even imagine that. Like why would you uproot a plant, go in your bathroom to take a picture of yourself in your underwear to send to some other guy? I just can’t comprehend it. But that’s why they make interesting paintings.”

The name of the exhibit follows another one of Stone’s past showings, You’re Gayer Than a Rainbow. 

“These are just phrases that people have constructed over, like, I don’t know how long … I’d say decades,” he says. “There’s a whole list of them that I found online, like a big Urban Dictionary just to show how gay someone is.”

Ian Stone

Still, the idea of “gay” is a subjective one. 

“Does it mean that they’re effeminate or fruity? I like to play with that,” Stone says. “Especially by having something so conventional looking like a painting. I love that when you read the title, you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s not what I was expecting.’”

Hence the title You’re Gayer Than a Picnic Basket and the accompanying painting, a still life picnic basket with a loaf of French bread sticking out ever so slightly. 

Stone plans to continue his exploration of homosexuality through art, but going forward, wishes to focus more on objects rather than people.

“It goes back to this idea of what gay is and what gay means. People imbue these objects with like, ‘Oh, I can’t be seen in public with this. It’s too gay,’” Stone says. “So I’ve been asking ‘What’s the gayest object you own?’ Everyone’s idea of what gay is is different, so the objects are changing, depending on the person. One guy looked around his house and said a leather teddy bear.” ■

This feature was originally published in the December issue of Cult MTL. You’re Gayer Than a Picnic Basket by Ian Stone is on at BBAM! Gallery (808 Atwater) through Jan. 31 (extended from Dec. 31). It can also be see online here.

For more on the Montreal arts scene, please visit the Arts section.
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