Xavier Schipani Artist masculinity Playboy

Painting a New Kind of Masculinity with Artist Xavier Schipiani

Schipani depicts a utopian world without gendered boundaries

Courtesy Xavier Schipiani

Xavier Schipani is curious: What makes a man?

“It’s been difficult since I have transitioned to make male friends,” says the artist, who practices in Austin, Texas. “Oftentimes, I have found it to be very lonely to be a man. I think the tenderness that I am trying to achieve in my work is a manifestation of what I would like to see in my own life—not to the extent of sexual intimacy but the community of brotherhood.”

On his journey to self knowledge—including a want to understand the world's aversion to transgender rights—the artist paints big guys in pastels and pinks or, sometimes, colors so muted they have almost faded to white. What viewers see is a stark contrast to Donald Trump's narcissism or to The Rock's bulging biceps. There is no anger, or a need to prove that they can chop wood. 

On the contrary, his illustrations show men always smiling, always loving, and oftentimes in a hedonistic tangle of pleasure. It's a celebration of what a man can be. These figures are left featureless, oftentimes without nipples and genitalia. They're in muted colors, exposed with multiple layers. Schipani creates works of activism. He presents a utopian world without the idea that masculinity is born male, heterosexual and physically strong. He presents a utopian world where all forms of love are accepted—a world with a diversity of bodies. He dissects men as he paints, from the inside out and then from the outside in. “It’s important to challenge the things that scare you, to face them head on and to turn them upside down in order to understand them better,” he says.

Schipani transitioned over a decade ago, but he recalls that he "was always so intimidated and slightly envious of hypermasculine identities and bodies. I think it felt like the most extreme version of who I was, but also felt familiar and cool. Post-transition, as I am more settled in my body and I am ‘passing,’ I no longer romanticize those ‘types’ and I am more aware of how toxic that energy can be.”

His upcoming Paradise of Bachelors series, for example, casts masculine archetypes like cowboys and leather dominants as literal gentle men; instead of being on horses and shooting guns, they're embracing one another with every layer of their being exposed.“[These works] explore the male identity in crisis as a result of toxic masculinity, where transgender males act as stewards of observation by sharing their experience. It shifts the focus from these toxic stereotypes of ‘What makes a man?’ to ‘What makes a trans man?’ thus creating an observable history of a new identity.”

Schipani's transition, besides his obvious way with a paint brush, could be his greatest asset when it comes to building his large-scale work. He is in a unique position to flip the male gaze, to display a reflection that seeks to include instead of exclude. “There are so many layers to ‘the gaze’ and my hopes are that when someone views my work they are forced to think of all of them,” Schipani says. “Who’s being represented? What’s being represented? Why, by who, and how does it affect me?”

“As we create works collectively as queer peers, we pave the way for others to do so and hopefully encourage those around us to join the conversation,” he adds. As is well known, visibility matters and—“in this economy” of contemporary American politics—it is absolutely vital to display and celebrate queerness and queer experiences, thereby normalizing a constantly othered group. Schipani is a staunch subscriber to this belief system. “I feel like there is an absence of trans bodies being shown even within the realms of ‘queer art,’” he says. “That only leads to an abstraction of what those bodies experience. I feel very connected to the bodies I paint, I tend to treat them with as much care as I would myself, wanting to honor and celebrate the beauty in every form.”
“It’s important to represent the pleasures and pains that [queer] bodies go through,” Schipani continues, shifting the conversation. “As a trans man, it is necessary not only to visually document my own path/body, but also the journey of others in the hopes that it will resonate now and long after I am gone.”
In doing so, Schipani’s practice is infused with self-care and self-preservation, intending to resonate these behaviors outward to viewers—particularly queer viewers. “We lose so many beautiful people within our community everyday from suicide, drug use, and acts of violence,” he says. “It’s vital that we share our experiences in an honest way so that others feel that they are not alone...Non-queer support is also truly needed and I think there are so many ways to be a good ally, all it takes is kindness, honesty and thoughtfulness.”

“There are so many ways, politically, I am made to feel invisible, from the bathroom ban to military service and all the freedoms in between that cis people take for granted,” Schipani continues. “My body being policed in a way that most people’s aren’t makes it political. That alone drives my passion to create art, exposing the absurd hypocrisy of being an American citizen.”

“Art has a unique ability to shed light on some of the more difficult topics we face in everyday life,” he says. “And it ultimately guides us towards resolution.”

Related Topics