Nipples, thighs, orifices of sorts – visually, Neil Bender‘s current exhibit of paintings at Tempus Projects is not unlike scrambled pay-per-view. Like most good jokes, though, behind the suggestive content and playful exhibit title, Purple Nurple is much more sober.
It can’t be denied: Bender’s work is overtly sexual. While content-wise the sweaty tangle of body parts in most of the paintings of Purple Nurple may resemble an orgy, the paintings resemble a collage compositionally. In fact, one of Bender’s pieces featured in the show is actually a proper cut-and-paste collage. In this way Bender isn’t creating his sexual imagery as much as he’s mediating sexual imagery we’re already familiar with. Perhaps that’s why his work can be so squirm-worthy at times.
There is another reason I found the work in Purple Nurple so affecting. Creative Loafing‘s Megan Voeller mentioned in a past review of Bender’s work that “Rather than re-inscribing the objectification of participants (most often women) found in mainstream porn, … [Bender] is playful and exploratory in a way that reflects the current, lively discourse on gender and sexuality”. Power relations in porn are generally pretty obvious. They’re much more murky with Bender’s faceless bodies, leaving it ambiguous as to who exactly is being objectified. In a weird way it feels like the collar-pulling viewer fills that role.
The paintings of Purple Nurple are also playful with the assumptions we make in “reading” the paintings (and by extension the images we consume in general). The centerpiece of the show, a large 88 x 120 in. painting, also makes use of this hyper-sexual imagery. A quilt-like pattern recalls a bed mattress or fish net stockings. Fleshy masses twist with outfit accessories, nipples with belt buckles. It’s easy to guess what may be going on in this scene, but difficult to reconcile it with the painting’s title, My Daughter’s Overturned Bedroom. Bender plays the opposite game in paintings with titles such as Pony You Up and Raw. Where we presume perversity is upon closer inspection banality. Don’t blame Neil, you were the one thinking it.
Neil Bender’s work provokes with an immediacy that painting doesn’t often allow. In a medium that has an increasingly difficult struggle to find relevancy, the work in Purple Nurple is indecently appropriate.
Word is there will be a closing reception on March 2nd – keep an eye on Tempus Projects’ Facebook page.