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ZARA TOPPIN





“She went up to London and chose new clothes at a West End tailor’s… She bought twelve pairs of gloves, some heavy silk stockings, a square sapphire scarf pin and a new umbrella. Nor could she resist the lure of pyjamas made of white crepe de Chine which she spotted in Bond Street. The pyjamas led to a man’s dressing-gown of brocade - an amazingly ornate garment.”

Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness, 1928

In this presentation, a group of works collectively reflect on the external performativity of an idealised masculinity and its aesthetic associations.




Untitled 25x20cm
oil on board




Sketchbook video 24’’


A sketchbook filled with pencil drawings that merge shopfront signage with figures lifted from early 20th century clothing catalogues, tailoring advertisements and pattern-cutting shapes, examines the aesthetic composition of masculinity via dress.



Tailoring, in essence, relies on construction - of silhouette, framing and material - and in this way embodies a contention that masculinity is not inherent but fabricated. A suit becomes an artificial, structural code of masculinity, built to accentuate the male frame and its wearer’s virility, strength and power.




These works on paper accompany four oil paintings on various materials - paper, canvas, glass - depicting a collection of assembled golden objects. Together, these trinkets at once feel like a child’s secret hoard of sparkling treasure, while simultaneously purporting a language of masculine adornment: cufflinks, a tie-pin, signet rings and other miscellaneous gleaming curio.





Untitled variable size
oil on glass, felt, shirt


Much like tailored clothing, these objects become emblems of aspiration, external ornamentation that functions to decorate an outward expression of theatrical, enacted masculinity. Somewhere between uniform and costume, worn together these various trappings belie the ease with which gender can be externally constructed and in doing so, undermine any preconceived assumptions that masculinity belongs solely to maleness.





Untitled (diptych) 59x42cm and 41x58cm
oil on paper


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chris.hough@citylit.ac.uk    /  fine art 2020 city lit london  /    amanda.knight@citylit.ac.uk