Closing the 2018 edition of the Sunny Art Prize is the new upcoming prize winner solo exhibition ‘Stephen Doyle – Post-Binary’. Irish artist Stephen Doyle will be exhibiting a new series of portrait paintings alongside a site-specific installation exploring contemporary discussions around gender and its definition for society as well as for the individual. The show will be on view at the Sunny Art Centre (30 Gray’s Inn Rd., WC1X 8HR, London) between May 15th and June 15th 2019.
As seen with Stephen's work shortlisted for the second prize of the Sunny Art Prize 2018, queer identity and queer culture, as well as the representation of sexual identity and orientation are at the core of Stephen Doyle’s practice. This upcoming solo exhibition will provide audiences with the chance to critically re-evaluate their conception of what gender is, means, and what it encompasses for people on a daily basis. Using a series of portrait paintings and an installation made exclusively for the show, the artist will try to ‘question the role of gender and its correlation with biological sex. Can gender be expressed or is it finite and defined at birth?’.
The striking feature that the artist's paintings have in common is the extensive representation of fabric and textile material wrapped around the androgynous naked bodies in the highly geometrical compositions. For the artist, the use of fabric is seen as an extension of self-expression. Its use in daily life is often perceived and understood as a reflection of one’s truer persona. Metaphorically speaking, the patterns individuals identify with during their daily lives are commonly used as a tool to ‘decipher’ the identity of the other, of the individuals and the communities that live around us. As our daily lives are dictated by patterns of categorisation, the human mind therefore never fails to compartmentalise and categorise individuals when it comes to gender, and it does so through patterns that are perceived as primarily feminine or masculine.
The irresistible force to separate and clearly define identity drives the mind to trap itself in an endless illusionary cycle of perceived order and stability of categories. The paintings shown in the exhibition try to break such cycle and interrupt the illusion which surrounds perceptions of clearly defined gender identities. Stephen manipulates patterns usually associated with either the feminine and the masculine, interweaving them together in his compositions. In particular, floral designs and bright colours, which are traditionally associated with the feminine, entwine with geometric patterns and dark colours, which are usually considered more masculine in previous Western traditions of figurative painting as well as art and design. At the same time, the merging variety of patterns and colours surrounding the figures are meant to deconstruct their perceived fixed identity so to render them ‘neutral’, namely non-binary. By doing so the figures' identity is subject to the viewer’s ideology, allowing us to readdress preconceptions of gender.
Furthermore, the environments within the paintings are expressed as solid constants, contrasted by the spectral figures, as a commentary on the restriction of gender expression in a binary system. Finally, the site-specific installation is seen as an extension of the paintings’ environments into the gallery space. In doing so, the viewers are allowed to be part of the artworks and the figures' restricted reality. This stimulates the viewers into questioning their own identity.
Stephen Doyle is an Irish artist. He graduated at the Crawford College of Art and is currently based in Cork, Ireland. His most recent exhibitions have received international critical acclaim. Stephen Fry and Rory O’ Neill (aka Panti Bliss) quoted his solo show in 2017 as ‘tragically necessary’ and ‘impressive’. Sean Kissane, the Curator of Exhibitions at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, stated that ‘Doyle’s work takes the contemporary concerns of his generation – and using the traditional medium of portraiture has brought it right up to date and made it relevant to all of us’. The Irish Times has selected Stephen Doyle as one of the top 50 people to watch in 2019. Stephen will also be part of the Artist Residency Programme (scheduled for April 2019) as well as the Sunny Art Prize 2018 - China Exhibition, both in Shanghai, China, as part of the Sunny Art Prize 2018. These opportunities will see his work engaging with new audiences across the world in an effort to redefine how the public across the world approaches issues surrounding gender and identity.
 The Oxford Dictionaries define non-binary as: ‘Denoting or relating to a gender or sexual identity that is not defined in terms of traditional binary oppositions such as male and female or homosexual and heterosexual.’