Porn and embroidery might seem like strange bedfellows, but they make perfect sense together at the hand of London artist/designer Scott Ramsay Kyle.
Kyle takes the hypermasculine imagery of vintage gay porn and softens it with handsewn embellishments that throw the genre’s macho tendencies into queer relief. Think circle jerk meets knitting society and you’re somewhere in the vicinity.
Check out his work below along with our interview, where he gets cerebral about Aldous Huxley, his thoughts on “Masc4Masc,” and the relationship between the sewing needle and the penis.
What are you working on at the moment?
Many projects. Over the summer I worked on several art direction projects coming out soon. Also a second edition of a collaborative zine called OBSESSIONS II, with two other great artists, Melanie Coles and Michael Crowe. We launched the first edition back in July in London at ASP3.
There is also a beautiful T-shirt collaboration with London designer Ashish that is being released in the next few weeks. I work in Paris as a consultant so back and forth there from my home in London, and I’ll be in New York mid-October for more hustling and some fun too.
Your work is very sexy. What made you start using sexuality as a focal point?
A couple of years ago I started a practice-based PhD, making work in response to research questions I had set myself. As I got further into the research, I realized that I wanted to make physical work and do less reading and contextualizing in the formal academic way. I stalled the PhD but continued to develop my practice.
The original project was called The Doors and Men of Paradise. These were ideas developed from reading Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception while on a mescaline trip and looking into his journey between an active and contemplative life. I asked myself why I wanted to work in the medium of embroidery and what my interests were in it.
By doing so, I compared the physical action of hand sewing to that of masturbation; the posture, control of breath, the intensity of thought and focus as well as when my right arm, wrist, and hand move up and down over and over in repeat; then when the ‘money shot’ comes, the release of cum was similar to the final stitch marks onto the surface.
As I was thinking about perception, repetition, craft, and masturbation as performance, the sexual imagery eventually arrived. I related the sewing needle to my penis as it is penetrating a surface to create joy whether that is with making artwork or fucking. Both bring beauty and connect the head, the heart, the ego, and the penis.
These images look like they’ve been taken out of vintage erotic magazines, do you collect these?
The images I work with are taken from my own adolescent collection of porn. I had many magazines (wank rags) that I had held onto since my early teens, they were in a huge bag in my studio. I look at those men now and have very little sexual interest towards them, but I admire them as they helped get me off for years (this is pre-internet days when I was growing up in a small Scottish town). There were very few ‘out’ gay lads to mess around with, the general area was pretty homophobic, so it was difficult to get my sexual kicks and explore.
As I have become more sexually secure and fulfilled, I don’t feel aroused by the images I work with; instead I appreciate what they meant for my younger self. I guess by adding embroidery thread and collage techniques it humanizes the 2-dimensional male muses and shows this admiration.
Are they hard to come by?
I bought them when I was young or stole them from local newsagents at the time. The idea of buying a top shelf porn magazine now feels so outdated, like beautiful relics. The Internet, smartphones and apps like Grindr and Scruff changed the naked image and how it is exchanged and viewed in our modern world. Everyone is so naked nowadays and comfortable with it.
When did you start using embroidery?
I’ve been using embroidery in my practice for over 15 years, having trained at two excellent art schools. It taught me many skills in multi-disciplinary working methods, allowing me to work across many creative projects and outputs, some consultancy work, collaborative, editorial. But hand embroidery is my most personal process. It is a masochist art form, it requires endurance, physicality, and patience. I relate to this role of being a masochist, my favorite quote from Venus in Furs says, ”The moral of the tale is this: whoever allows himself to be whipped, deserves to be whipped.”
I am always very active and prolific in developing my work and can be my own worst enemy in the creative process. I see working with my hands and engaging my thoughts as a confessional process, I use text which holds undertones of sentiment, I think for me it is important to present myself through my work, and I see everything I do take on a linear form. For me it is all a continuation of myself at the present time into future self. I really do sound self-obsessed.
You use vintage porn with masculine overtones but then manipulate the images using a technique that is traditionally considered feminine. Is this subversion intentional?
There are records of working men originally doing embroidery and craft work from earlier than 1300AD. It’s a more modern day assumption that it is solely a feminine skill. With my embroidery and embellishment I have free rein to use a mixture of materials and manipulate photographs and magazine cuttings to recreate my own depictions of visual culture, image making, and organic matter juxtaposed with man-made materials.
My work today deals with the masculine body; questioning sexuality, the nude and naked male muse, re-appropriated imagery, and how I can make these confessional and relevant to my sense of self in the present context of how our society depicts what is deemed masculine. My work has both masculine and feminine connotations, which can be advantageous.
Do you ever feel guilty about using images that might now be out of print?
I can’t imagine many of these magazines survived unless archived by collectors or erotic fans/erotic museums. There is no guilt from me, just appreciationI’m headstrong and hate to regret. I hope I am making these images relevant again.
When I stitch over the cock, an orifice, or sexual positions they are being recreated over a new surface, which allows the images to become more of a pleasing erotic desirable object with the originally intended image hidden underneath It’s like redecorating the bodies I use.
You deal with masculinity and sexuality in your practice, and “Masc4Masc” has become a controversial topic in queer culture, with many calling it homophobic or self-hating. Does your work express a point of view on this issue?
I believe my work represents how I feel about maleness and the naked male body. I want to celebrate the male form, the muscle, the proportions, the exchange, and the queer gaze. As I have crossed my work between fashion and art projects for years, it seems like the natural progression to still decorate onto the body. The fact that these bodies may be engaging in sexual acts doesn’t bother me. I’m no prude, it’s the viewer who should assess their own judgments.
I’ve had images of men just kissing removed from my Instagram, which is outrageous, but there are still small-minded bigots around. As I work mainly on the nude male, I elevate them within my work, they become even more beautiful, they are adorned with embellishment, and they do not conform to a ‘hetero-normative’ ideal or preconception of what straight art ‘should be’.
The Ancient Greeks worked with plaster on the male formthe naked form has always been aroundand many people have double standards when it comes to nudity. “Masc4Masc” works are exciting to see when creative people make interesting works, but I hope it’s not just a hashtag trend. I don’t want to pigeonhole my work as a trend, I am drawn to both the masculine and feminine within my work, it needs duality to survive.
Is your work inspired by your sex life?
I’m versatile in sex, and often when I focus the artwork on either the cock or the arse, that may be telling about how I am feeling at that particular time. In saying that, as I mentioned above I’m no longer aroused by the porn images I work with as I’ve outgrown them.
I admire the men I wanked over years ago; I’ve made them like talismans, which is true to say of some of the previous guys I have slept with. Sex can be an opium chase, sometimes striving for that amazing hit that an ex partner gave you. I do like beauty in sex, attention to detail and good effort, so that is present in my work I suppose. I have only been heart broken once, so my work does show that loss occasionally.
Do you use hook-up apps?
I have in the past but not for a while, I prefer to meet guys out or through friends. I have an addictive personality and aspects of apps and social media can bring great benefits, but also big distraction. I find the famous ”any more pics?” equally frustrating and hilarious as I have/still do ask the same question.
You’ve made some really interesting garments and masks in the pastit’s almost like your collage works come to life. Have you always had an interest in fashion?
I trained at Central Saint Martins in MA Fashion, which is one of the best fashion courses in the world. I was so happy to get there at the time. My work has always been more arts and crafts driven, I think that’s why fashion people find it exciting to fuse my work into their collections.
I prefer to work in 2D, so working on paper and cloth is easier for me. Making garments in 3D requires another section of my brain that I only tap into sometimes. I consider my stitch marks as a form of painting, which is why I relate more to art than fashion, but from my understanding of fashion I can identify trends, good research skills, and recognizing the odd moments of zeitgeist.
What can we expect from you in the future?
Much more of the same but bigger, bolder, and blonder. More sex, more art, more fun in general. I have some work featured in a group show coming up in Berlin November 3-5 at the COLONIA SPACE; this is a project curated by Nicolaus Simoneau from KALTBLUT Magazine.
I am also planning my own London show early in 2018 and considering turning my studio into a temporary gallery space. I launched my own website where collectors can buy the work directly from me and cut out gallery fees and commissions, which feels great. You can follow the link: www.scottramsaykyle.work and treat yourself.