Way Out

June 5, 2009

Michael Bilsborough’s (MFA 2006 Illustration as Visual Essay) drawings tend to go to extremes. Their physical size makes them hard to ignore—his smallest works are more than 3 feet across and 4 feet high, and the larger pieces can take up most of a gallery wall. And then there’s the content: Bilsborough draws human bodies in physical extremis, whether they’re pictured in orgiastic sexual tableaus or strewn about the floor of an Escher-like bathroom. Nothing is too much, and the artist seems to always be looking for more ways the body can connect to physical sensation.

Several of Bilsborough’s large-scale works are currently on view in “The Only Way Out is Through” at Invisible-Exports, 14A Orchard Street, through Sunday, June 21. Bilsborough spoke with the Briefs about the show and the relationship of sex to architecture.

Tell me about “The Only Way Out is Through”
It’s about sex, architecture and sensation. The whirling vortex or centrifuge compositions, translucent surfaces and overlapping sheets get me thinking in three dimensions, on the X, Y and Z axes. The spiral, chiral orgies are overdetermined and implausible, but the whirling is maybe a way to intimate the oblivion of a transcendent sexual experience.

Is there one particular thing you learned in the MFA program that continues to impact your work?
The most important part of my MFA program was the group show that Department Chair Marshall Arisman curated, “Under Construction: Works in Progress.” Getting to see one of my wall drawings in a nice gallery was revelatory, and a priceless head start in exhibiting work. The preparator told me, ‘This might be your only chance to show in a Chelsea gallery.’

What has evolved in your work in the 3 years since you graduated?
I feel more adventurous with materials and less timid about the sexual content. ‘Let’s just try it’ is what I often think while drawing; that’s actually the title of an older drawing. Compared to earlier work, what I depict is more explicit and what I formulate is more abstract. Of course, the sex I draw is vanilla compared to what you can find elsewhere in the world: take Robert Mapplethorpe, Japanese hentai, Dennis Cooper or two minutes of adult Web sites. Still, many viewers still seem surprised at what I select. At the show, I overheard an older guy looking at a drawing who gasped, ‘I’ve never tried THAT!’

What are you working on next?
I’m catching up on my Netflix. I’ve had Mannequin on my desk for months; assembling the show kept me too busy for movies.

Images: Michael Bilsborough, (top) Himmelblau, 2009; (bottom) Leaning on a Ghost, 2009.

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