For Greener Pastures: Excavations and Research in Search of the Origins of Gay Semiotics
materials funded: wide-format printer, paper, ink
In these photo collages, Nathan Manna pays homage to Worcester artist John O’Reilly. O’Reilly’s small, complex photo collages are renowned nationally for their fluid combination of Old Master artworks and pre-modern literary images with gay erotica, self-portraits, and theatrical sets, a private language of references and symbols Manna understands as a kind of gay semiotics, or iconography.
Manna’s artwork is in pursuit of a queer utopia, an idea disseminated by influential theorist José Esteban Muñoz, an idea of an ethereal realm that transcends time and centers pleasure, where gay sexual pleasure is not debased, but idyllic, or even holy. Manna writes:
The next step in my process as an artist is to create work that challenges and threatens the straight viewer. To be gay, to be queer is to challenge a mainstream heteronormative patriarchal viewpoint, and I want to reflect…an agenda that centers on sexual liberation, rather than sexual assimilation.
Manna uses images of the nude male body, the highly idealized form found in Greco-Roman classical art, Renaissance religious paintings and sculptures, and sexual images. While O’Reilly incorporated mid-century soft-core gay erotica such as “fitness magazines” alongside art historical references and self-portraiture, Manna utilizes their contemporary version, commercial pornography. Beyond their overtly graphic sexual imagery lies a profound significance rooted in a visual history highly recognizable to gay men, one that spans millennia, from Greco-Roman statuary to contemporary photography. These images deny the misconception that the world has always adhered to heteronormative standards, and that queerness is merely a recent "fad."
This project is an exploration of scale and impact. Manna used their Material Needs Grant to purchase a wide-format printer for the works you see here. Each photomontage is constructed through analog means–blades, paper, and adhesive–and then re-photographed and stitched together in Photoshop to construct the whole image, which is then printed at large scale.
The wide-format printer empowers Manna to transcend the confines of analog collage. By re-photographing and enlarging these compositions, they not only expand the physical dimensions of the work, but also aim to immerse viewers in an intimate engagement with the vivid content.
/// ABOUT THE ARTIST
Nathan Manna currently splits their time between Worcester and Chicago, where they are a Master of Fine Arts student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. They are a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, where they earned a Bachelor of Arts in Performance Studies (self-designed interdisciplinary major), and Uxbridge High School, where they attended the Gateway to College Program at Quinsigamond Community College. Manna served as the Chair for Worcester Youth Pride and the Parade Director for Worcester Pride, and spent two summers interning at the Massachusetts State House working on civil rights and LGBTQIA+ legislation. They call themselves “a relentless fantasist,” seeing the world through “a haze of make-believe, perceiving fantastical realms beneath everyday life.”
The images below depict artwork details. Amongst the Ruins and An American's Dreams of Italian Stallions in the Countryside at Summer are available to view in full in the galleries. Gallery hours run Thursday through Sunday, 12-5 PM, and are free and open to the public.
For sales inquiries, please contact the galleries at email@example.com or call (508) 755-5142.
Amongst the Ruins (detail)
photomontage, 48" x 24", 2023, $750
An American's Dreams of Italian Stallions in the Countryside at Summer (detail)
photomontage, 24" x 173", 2023, $1,200
Glory Penetrating those Great Celestial Spheres (details)
photomontage, 24" x 68", 2023, $700
So That's What They Left Out of the History Books (detail)
photomontage, 24" x 109", 2023, $1,000
The Thin Barrier Between the Erotic and the Divine (details)
photomontage, 24" x 79", 2023, $850