A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

Libidinous Lines: New York-based artist Michael Bilsborough

Heart of Glass, 2007, ink on paper, 38″ x 50,”

Excerpt of an interview by Thomas Hollingworth for MAP Magazine‘s latest issue.

I have been away from my home country for sometime now but when I look at Michael Bilsborough’s depictions of savage debauchery and hedonistic excess my wistfulness vanishes, replaced by a longing of a very different kind. Characterized by near-flawless draftsmanship and stylized, often morbid renderings of genitalia his drawings are a portent of what everyday life for might be like if the temptations, weaknesses and abject futility that beset mankind triumphed over its staunch conventionality.

Rather than limiting the visualization of these shameful predispositions the formal constraints that the artist imposes on his practice instead reveal with alacrity an alarmingly vile and clandestine world. The simplicity of Bilsborough’s line evokes text book etchings; scented with the authority of anthropological studies their common depiction of a wretched humanity flourishes as a terrible imminent fact.

Anchoring themselves in such a way, these dark orgies almost seem like an x-rated paint by numbers – prompting participation and ultimately completion by viewers who subconsciously implicate themselves into the climaxing drama.

I contacted Michael Bilsborough on behalf of MAP Magazine to find out what makes him tick and why he thinks that when the chips are down the cocks will come out.

Your drawings could be interpreted as depicting the inside of a crèche twenty years after everyone in the outside world had been killed by some apocalyptic event or other, at which time the inhabitants of the crèche were too young to have been properly taught how to use a doorknob. In this context, your drawings could be interpreted as a powerful message about how essential education is to human life and to society as a whole. In any other context, your drawings could only be interpreted as a load of skinny people fucking. Which is it?

Sometimes, it’s a load of skinny people fucking, but often, they are fumbling and grasping aimlessly. Either way, some figures seem isolated, oblivious, or lost; even despite the densely populated mise en scene. So the fucking isn’t central.

The drawings embrace art history, which implies embracing education. But they definitely aren’t meant as prophetic messages about education! I think “apocalyptic” fits, and how could we avoid that? The planet is melting and we’re on the verge of successive wars. Then again, “apocalyptic” belongs to science fiction, which doesn’t describe the drawings.

I had thought about the images as stages or proscenia, but never the nativity scenes I saw every year as a kid, in which a baby, foreign men, and animals – a cross-section of the world – come together in a manger. That’s something for me to think about.

Think on, I would certainly relish the addition of a religious element to your work. On the subject of art – in particular your art – embracing history [and education] and serving what I suppose could be described as art’s function in the vernacular do you think that pre-apocalyptic Western society will ever reach a point where imagery as fragrant as yours is widely accepted?

I don’t know. For me, vernacular imagery translates as popular appeal and mostly includes advertising, especially photography, especially figurative, and especially manipulated. So can ads be fragrant? Maybe, but I doubt that’s a goal of advertising. Likewise, wide acceptance is not a goal of my work. That’s lucky for me, because overtly sexually-charged images are not widely accepted in this country, though they are widely consumed and stored in guilty consciences! But sexually-charged images are accepted if they are nestled in with something apparently non-sexual. Again, advertising pops up. And Catholic imagery might be another good example.

None of the people in your rooms look like they particularly want to be there, do you like to fuck or what?

I’m more into heavy petting. [...]

To read more, log on to or pick up a print edition of MAP Magazine’s new “Pleasures Issue”.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Libidinous Lines: New York-based artist Michael Bilsborough