I Like You, Erin Burrell’s colorfully irreverent exhibition at HeyThere Projects, upends the core tenets of masculinity in one fell swoop.
Erin Burrell: I Like You
January 14 – February 9, 2023
HeyThere Projects, Joshua Tree
There is no shortage of male nudity in art. From Glykon’s Farnese Hercules, a towering, sinewy sculpture of the Greek hero from the third century CE, to Lucian Freud’s more recent (and much more realistic) male nudes, which highlight all the body’s flabs and folds—the presence of male nudity in art has taken many forms.
In the hands of Erin Burrell, however, the body is neither a symbol of human perfection nor a deflated, decaying lump of flesh: it is a plaything, a vessel made for movement, laughter, and sex.
His most recent exhibition, I Like You, on view at HeyThere Projects in Joshua Tree, is flooded with images of cartoonishly nude men. Even in their two-dimensional simplicity, each figure’s fluffy beard, scraggly chest hair, and dad-bod physique sidesteps traditional conceptions of the naked male body with playful irreverence. In my mind, they aren’t making a statement, per se; they just are. In effect, Burrell’s work seems to undermine the most basic tenets of toxic masculinity. In his world, men are allowed to be anything they want.
The L.A.-based painter and sculptor is not new to this project, either. Petrified Pisser (2010), a masterfully crafted wooden urinal Burrell initially exhibited over a decade ago, is so incredibly realistic, it’s shocking. The faux pack of Pall Mall cigarettes that sits atop the urinal evokes all the luster and glory of its most iconic smokers, like Kurt Vonnegut, while providing just enough distance from the “real thing” to reflect on the culture surrounding them. Why do certain men smoke certain cigarettes, anyway?
In a painting hanging nearby titled It’s Not a Girl-hole, It’s Not a Boy-hole or A Lady-hole, It’s a Manhole (2023), dozens of Burrell’s naked men rocket toward the center of the painting from all directions. Their arms at their side and their bare butts clenched, there’s something beautifully universal about them. Hilarious title aside, they’re just bodies hurtling through space. Some are brown, a few are blue, others orange—but that doesn’t much matter.
My favorite piece, you ask? That’s easy. Homo Vs. The Jelly Beans (2023), an eight-by-ten-inch snapshot of a battle between two naked men and one inordinately large pair of testicles. Somehow, I’ve never related to a work of art more.