December 2016

Andy Fabo, “Portrait of a Young Man with Zipper”, 1981, acrylic on canvas with vinyl, metal studs, underwear and blue jeans, 175 x 56 cm. Gift of Janusz Dukszta, 2003. Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre, Barrie.

Andy Fabo (Canadian, b. 1953)
Portrait of a Young Man with Zipper, 1981
acrylic on canvas with vinyl, metal studs, underwear and blue jeans
175 x 56 cm
Gift of Janusz Dukszta, 2003
Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre, Barrie

Portrait of a Young Man with Zipper (1981) is a mixed-media painting of a young, blond man. He stands, half-smiling, his torso presented to us, the viewers. He wears a pair of real blue jeans, slightly faded and softened through wear. His challenging stance invites us to choose whether to leave his top button and fly undone, revealing or concealing his leopard-print underwear beneath. Life-sized and presented in an aggressively vertical frame, he appears as much like a lover as he does an idealized self, mirrored. He is shown against a ground of turquoise vinyl, held in place with studs shaped like five-pointed sheriff’s stars around the edges of the canvas.

Andy Fabo painted this portrait in 1981, one of a series of paintings of shirtless men in jeans. A founding member of the ChromaZone Collective (1981-1985), Fabo was a leader in the Toronto arts scene of the period and was instrumental in the shift from modernist-inspired abstract painting into a more critically engaged, activist art practice. Central to that project was the reintroduction of the figure into painting, along with concomitant issues of identity and social representation. Ideas about identity—and in particular, Queer identity—are examined in this portrait, which questions norms of masculinity while playfully recalling underground artists like Tom of Finland.

Fabo was one of the first artists internationally to create work in response to the AIDS crisis after testing for HIV+ in 1986. Much of this work was undertaken with video artist Michael Balser, and comprised video and new media works created over the span of fifteen years, until Balser’s death of an AIDS-related infection in 2002. Notable works from this collaboration include Survival of the Delirious (1988), included in the VTape/Video Data Bank anthology Against AIDS, which is currently held in numerous public collections including the National Gallery of Canada and MoMA. Fabo continues to live and work in Toronto, where he also curates and writes on contemporary art. He has exhibited internationally since his first solo exhibition at Toronto’s A Space, Studs, in 1979. In 2005 Fabo was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto.

This work is presented in honour of Day With(out) Art, an international day of mourning and action responding to the ongoing AIDS crisis.