Antony Iacono’s small-scale works on paper look like flat acrylic paintings. Appearances can be deceiving though: these are beautifully crafted collages that investigate the abstract pictorial elements of representation, but are at the same time spirited observations on the potential of colour. Iacono’s colour palette for this exhibition includes a lot of sombre browns and glossy blacks, but his bright colours steal the show: the camp lilac in Last Coffee, 2017 the piss yellow in Hanger, 2017 and the playful green in Rope (Study), 2017. They inject a sense of lightness and humour into these odd and slightly comical works, which are as much about looking as they are about performing the self.
They speak of a world of style and exuberance in which smart clothes not only dominate but have cultural resonance too. Faces do not matter as much as garments and fashion accessories: expensive shoes, watches, belts are at the forefront of his compositions. They attest to the fetishisation of a certain lifestyle which comes out of the pages of fashion magazines, but they also speak volumes about the city which looms in its absence.
Iacono was born in New York in 1987, a time when the city was becoming extensively gentrified and consumerism was promoted as freedom of choice. This freedom extended to the ‘choice’ of sexual orientation, so the middle-class lives of LGBTQ+ people in affluent American cities were in many respects normalised. Growing up in this climate, his work portrays nameless and faceless men hanging out in the sedated, post-AIDS NY, men who use the latest gay apps to hook up. It is a world of looking rather than acting. To complicate (and implicate) the viewer, a number of bondage elements are included in the works, alluding to a darker and slightly more perverse narrative of the city in the past, often commemorated in movies and in seminal works of queer literature. The fact that we never get any action is frustrating, but telling of today’s rites of bonding.
This restraint also heightens the tension, feeding the viewer’s unconsummated desire. Scopophilia is a term used to describe the sexual pleasure that derives from watching, rather than participating in a sexual encounter. It seems to me the figures in Iacono’s works fall into this category. Despite turning the viewer into a voyeur who longs to satisfy the insatiable desire for images, the artist holds back and lets us imagine the final act.
Curator of Programmes
The Approach, 1st Floor, 47 Approach Road, London E2 9LY. Open Wednesday-Sunday 12.00-18.00. Exhibition continues until 24 March 2019. www.theapproach.co.uk