The images are by now surely familiar to anyone who has loved homoerotic art from the last 15 years. Many such photographers and visual artists have closed their studios since Ross Watson began, but he’s made a living from his paintings for all of this time, even attracting Elton John as a collector. The difference may well be the contextualising of his subjects: as godlike statues, airforce pilots or, in this instance, athletes transported beyond the sporting field.
I just wanted to get away from what you see so much in photography, with a model posed in front of a calico backdrop -¦ Watson explains on the phone from Melbourne. I wanted to make a series of paintings that were surprising and captivating, with an edge to them.
With the painting Daniel, Volleyball for example, it’s impossible that the ball would be balanced on a moving speedboat, but it doesn’t matter. It just goes into an almost dreamlike space. The white dove that’s sitting on top of the ball, the young player lost in his own world -¦ Hopefully the painting, 10 years on, will still be interesting.
His latest exhibition Sports/Men offers Watson’s most unusual compositions to date. Jamie, Aerobics sees the jock-strapped athlete alone on a vast desert plain. In Osman, Martial Arts, the competitor sits on horsetop, framed by white sheets and Uluru. Watson tells me that each of the models is excellent in their particular sport, with the quirky frame perhaps indicative of Watson’s personal obsessions.
I turned 40 in February and as we all do at this time, you find yourself dealing with a change of life, laughs Watson. A couple of friends have noted that in paintings like Daniel, Track And Field and Daniel, Volleyball, the athletes are very much in their own world and looking very self-reflective.
I ask more about Watson’s process, discovering that he begins with the human form, then finds the background purely through intuition. Despite the somewhat tongue-in-cheek air of images such as Connor, Triathlon (which has a swimmer helicoptered in Speedos to a barren Central Australian desert), Watson is deeply serious about the hyper-realistic world he has created. I ask if he has ever considered painting men with bodies less beautiful -“ if he’s ever had any Lucien Freud moments.
Lucien Freud models are quite different to mine, concurs Watson. I haven’t for years. In the past I’ve painted women as well. Only more recently I’ve been painting more athletic men.
At the same time I’ve painted a balance, I’m attracted to all kinds of body types. If someone has a very boyish, slim regular body, that can be just as attractive and beautiful to me as someone who is very, very athletic.
I suspect our personal definitions of beautiful body types might be a little different, so I silence my inner Naomi Wolf for a moment to ask whether he’ll be competing for the Games.
Who has time? says Watson. I’ll be at the gallery for 95 percent of the time, so I won’t be participating in any sports -“ but in one way I’ve already been participating for a year.
Sports/Men is showing at the Kirketon, 229 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst, until 6 November, from 11am to 6pm daily as part of the cultural festival.