Are you GAY? STRAIGHT? BLACK? WHITE? FAT? SKINNY? RICH? POOR? CHRISTIAN? MUSLIM?
The remanufactured bullshit of such labels in society - of those defacing constructions imposed upon human identity - are no longer important.
At least not in the world of fine artist Michael Bell, who goes by the suitably mysterious and somewhat primordial pseudonym of "BAEL". Mr. Bael has wiped the slate clean of his figures; cleansed them of life's suffocating and compromising 'titles'. Instead, his subjects have regressed (or progressed?) to a collection of raw humanoids, naked in a world where gender, race, sexuality, religion no longer define humanity; where "purity" and "essence" of being finally have their meanings reinstated.
Here the human body is stripped in favour of a brutally visceral exploration of deep human emotion. Initial impressions? Well, if I was totally honest I'd say that I can't stop seeing that terrifying Cyborg Ninja from the Metal Gear Solid franchise. It's that anthropomorphism, the confluence between animal and human which tinges these pieces with the horror of classic sci-fi monsters - those which, rather chillingly, have their essence bred in human biology.
In any case, these pieces are positively haunting and disturbing. The figures are like ethereal apparitions from a nightmare, projections of our most deeply repressed fears and anxieties. What intrigues me about these subjects is just how vivid they are despite such a crucial lack of physical information. At first sight they give the impression of being rendered through quick, rough etching marks in a similar vein to Egon Schiele - everything appears so suggestive and enigmatic. Yet despite being so puzzlingly minimal, these figures offer more emotional truth; have more substance and presence than a dense photorealistic representation of the human form.
While Bael has asserted his artistic determination to avoid making his viewers feel "comfortable" and "satisfied" (and I do indeed feel moderately freaked out when I consider his pieces for too long) - I still think there's something redemptive and liberating to be drawn from his figurative work. In their reductive starkness, these oddly feral creatures look to a Prelapsarian time (a future?), with human identity unspoiled by the pangs of contemporary society. No longer is physical aestheticism a fragile target for scrutiny and anxiety; now it serves as a mere vessel through which the artist can explore the greater importance of human emotion.
And through Bael's provocative use of vermilions, the nature of those emotions are pretty clear. His faces are suspiciously bloodied, with mouths pinned or scratched out that amplify the certain lack of human civilisation here. More and more we err on the side of animalism with Bael, his figures found lurking, stalking, crouching - generally looking threatening and diabolical. The monochrome offset only by the blood lines and fills truly exemplify these characters as possessing nothing but unbridled, fiery emotions: hot, aggressive sexuality; youthful angst and violence bubbling beneath the molten surface.
The piece above, entitled 'Cons', is my favourite work from Bael. For me it encapsulates everything the artist is trying to articulate. Stained with the metaphorical blood on its hands, the figure appears like a new-born, caught in a existentialist moment of self-discovery and disgust at the revelation of its own being - of those base desires of human identity which come to define it more truthfully than any other.
Don't kid yourself.