Xavier Schipani blurs the lines of porn and art to create an inclusive space for sex and gender

Xavier Schipani blurs the lines of porn and art to create an inclusive space for sex and gender

CultureJanuary 02, 2017 By Isabelle Kohn

The first time we came across Austin-based artist Xavier Schipani's work, we were were hooked. 

It contained something we'd never seen in such blatant terms — sex, but not the kind you'd expect. Unlike the hyper-graphic, in-your-face-so-suck-it mentality way too many artists approach the topic with, Schipani's take was amorphous, uncomplicated and entirely approachable despite what his subjects find themselves doing: fucking each other in ways that transcend what our society tells us are normal ways to fuck.

Across Schipani's work, scenes of sensuality that would ordinarily come across as depraved are elevated beyond the obscene with a certain innocent simplicity, ample white space and straightforward, abstract subjects whose human form is emphasized by its unusual and refreshing lack of anatomical detail. The subjects themselves — often retro '70s porn performers who radiate a particular softness he finds alluring — are suspended in orgiastic or masturbatory action, performing taboo in a way that calls for humor and empathy rather than shame or the impulse for privacy. This is intentional — Schipani does this in order to create identifiable bodies with unclear gender so that the viewer learns to see sex and sexuality for what they are: universal human experiences we all share and desire, despite what bathroom we use.

It's hard to de-politicize a message like that in today's social climate, but Schipani's  not trying to; his art is inherently political, and has gotten more so in the wake of the election. Being trans himself, it's important for Schipani to create a safe visual space where people can explore identity, sexuality and gender — something he's succeed in accomplishing with his inclusive take on sex.

Enamored by his no-holds barred depictions of this and his often humorous take on pop culture, we sought him out for a good talking to.

 

What makes you want to pick up a pen (or paintbrush or pencil or anything else for that matter) and start working?

Well lately, I have definitely been influenced by our political climate and just the general state of the world.

I did a lot of political drawings surrounding the election, and I continue to draw people of color, transgender people and women whose bodies are political in one way or another. I am interested in shedding light on these issues and humanizing them. Especially trans issues — I think there is a heaviness that surrounds the LGBTQ community at times, and I want to help lift it. I hope that people can look to my work for comfort ... I think that art can be a really healing thing. I also hope that my work can stir up things in people that lead to a positive political outcome.

Sexuality is a front-and-center theme in your art. What makes sex a good subject matter?

I think because it’s so taboo. I have always been interested in what's “off limits” as a subject matter, and I think that it’s beautiful.

What aspects of sex and sexuality interest you that you're representing with your work? Can you tell me a little about what sex means to you?

I am interested in representing sexuality in a way that is inclusive and making sure that there is something for everyone in a binary and non-binary way. Sex is something that we all crave and have for the most part, so I feel all those angles are important to discuss/explore visually. I hope that my work starts dialogues about sex — it's important for me to come from a place of positivity when I am creating my work, especially when representing women. There are a lot of loaded images out there and a lot of negativity when it comes to a woman’s sexual portrayal. Also, sex between to consenting bodies is essential for self exploration and growth, especially bodies in transition.

Has transitioning yourself affected your work at all, and if so, how?

I think that it has given me a dual perspective that is valuable, especially when I am trying to apply a sensitivity to the “female” perspective as I mentioned before. I also think that it has given me a level of courage to create things that I identify with. 

With the continued negativity towards nudity, free sexual expression and anyone not-hetero in this country, what role does your art — or that of others — play in making people feel represented or seen?

I hope that my art plays a role in creating dialogue between people that think differently about sexuality and the “norm.” I also want to create a safe visual space for people to explore identity, gender roles and sexual themes that they may be curious about. I think that it is important now, more than ever, to harness the creativity of an “Othered” identified artist community in order to counteract the threatening state of affairs in our country. I think visibility is the most important thing for a marginalized artist, without an audience we’re not able to have a voice and speak for ourselves. People often fear what they don’t understand and, without the opportunity to explain through art, the fear can only grow.

With the whole world of selfies and social media dominating our visual realities, do you think that people's relationship with sexual imagery is changing? Is that a good or a bad thing?

To me, selfies are a constant obsession with being “seen” doing “something,” and I don’t necessarily make the relation to sexuality. I think that you can sexualize anything if you want to — it’s more of an opinion of the viewer and intention of the “selfie artist.” I have definitely talked with fellow artists that are photographers that are frustrated by this more than I am. I think that people’s relationships with technology are changing a lot of aspects about the way that they live/communicate/relate. As far as their relationship to sexuality, I guess that there are more platforms to be sexualized on? I think that I am on the fence about this topic still ...

In your opinion, what differentiates porn from art? Is it okay for them to sometimes be the same? Since it's so prominent in your work, any comment on how porn affects sexuality and why you find that interesting?

Well … If porn is the closest representation to the act of sex, and sex is something that we all value, then I think it is important to acknowledge its role in society. I think that the act of imitating sex is an interesting subject, and it is obviously is something that I find to be so in relation to art. I think that pornography gets “ghettoized” in a way that makes it “less than” by society. That separation has created a stigma where porn is “bad” or “obscene” and should be this guilty pleasure hidden behind a curtain or opened in an incognito tab ... it’s still very much something we are made to feel ashamed of. As I mentioned before I am interested in things that are taboo, but I am also invested in dispelling some of the same that looms over sexuality.

You've been doing the drawing-a-day thing for a while now. Can you talk a little about that and what motivated you to take it on? What are you drawing mostly?

The day after the election, I committed to a drawing a day project as a way to document the thoughts and feelings I had about what was going on. I guess in a way it is a visual journal. I joked about being a court room reporter at one time, but it’s more than that. I am mostly doing portraits, but it almost started to read as an obituary because we have lost so many people even since I started, so I had to pause on that. I want it to be something positive that people look forward to everyday, I think it is important to keep creating, making that visible space for LGBTQ artists to express themselves and feel like they are not alone. I think discourse is a huge part of the transgender “discussion” right now, often there is no language to describe someone's gender in a way that makes them feel comfortable in their own skin ... I hope that art can serve as a substitute for words.

What's next for you? Anything we should look forward to?

I am working on a book series about being transgender, starting with a children’s book, then young adult and finally a coffee table book for adults. I am excited about the research it is going to take to do this and the relationships I will build and strengthen in the process. I am doing the L.A. Art's Fair in February, and I am currently working on a new series that I am kind of keeping quiet for the time being but it’s really exciting, and I can’t wait to show it. I have had a couple of show offers, I am just waiting for the right time and place.