As a collage artist, I address specific issues that surrounds the community of gay men; but especially the impossibility of conforming to the images of idealized male bodies that circulate within mass media. I circle in on my own experience: I have been fat for most of my life. I was fat before I knew I was gay. When I came out, I thought that I would be accepted into a community of other gay men, but I was not. For all of my adult life I have struggled to find a place in the gay community. I have been discriminated against by the gay male community because of my weight, both in social and even academic settings. I quickly learned that within the community that I thought would accept me, there was a hierarchy based on your physical appearance.
Within my collages, I use a lot of images of flowers. I use them for their complex biomorphic shapes and vibrant colors. I also use them for their symbolism of romance, beauty, and desire. Flowers are also seen as being inherently feminine, but the juxtaposition of the feminine flowers with the masculine body has added an extra layer to my work. By layering flowers around the figure, I am elevating it to a status of beauty and desirability. In my more recent work where I am using images of my own body, I am framing my figure with flowers to elevate it and reinstate beauty and worth to a body that has been deemed other, through the use of a parodic play between the sad reality and a tongue-in-cheek humor toward that reality. I manipulate realistic images of flowers culled from mass media sources, playfully layering them to create complex, colorful, biomorphic forms. I show how flowers, symbols of natural beauty, can be digitally manipulated into fantastical forms. I hope that these paired flowers with the idealized mass media cut-outs of gay male bodies acknowledge and challenge often unobtainable standards of gay male body aesthetics, specifically marketed to a gay male audience. By challenging this ideal, my work states that you do not need six-pack abs in order to feel like you belong in gay male culture.
In my recent work, I have begun to use images of my own body in place of images of idealized bodies. The use of images of my own body came from a desire to shift the perspective of my work from lamenting the unfairness of the status quo of what bodies are considered ideal to one of body positivity for bodies that are on the outside of that ideal. By donning the flowery regalia once only reserved for the ideal gay male body, I am reinstating beauty and worth to my body and bodies like mine that are considered other.
My work now challenges gay male culture to reconsider what bodies they think are beautiful and ideal. I want my collages to start conversations about how we view our own and each other’s bodies. What bodies are idealized? What bodies are not idealized? How do people with ideal bodies benefit? How are those with non-idealized bodies disadvantaged? How does one body type become the status quo? What happens to those outside that status quo? With these questions, I hope my work brings more gay men into the community with a new sense of belonging and an appreciation of the many differences we have among us, not just our singular sexual identity.
Kyle Bredain Is a collage artist based in Minnesota. He received his BFA at Minnesota State University- Mankato, and is a current MFA candidate at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Kyle uses both analog and digital collage to explore body image within gay male culture.