Portrait of Icubby88, Adjustment, 18x18x1.5 oil on stretched canvas by Kenney Mencher

Portrait of Icubby88, Adjustment, 18x18x1.5 oil on stretched canvas by Kenney Mencher


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This painting depicts a thick hot bear about to unzip his suit pants in that homoerotic and sensually exciting moment that comes just before an exciting liaison in a gay relationship with another older hairy male. He’s already undone his tie in anticipation of the encounter.

The composition of this painting is cropped down to focus on the essentials, his beefy hands, his belly and his hairy chest. The face is cropped to just show his beard and the lower portion of his mouth because this shrouds his identity and creates mystery. I also think it’s a chance for the viewer to either invent a new identity or superimpose one on the main figure.

I focus a great deal of my art process on depicting people who don’t often get depicted in art. In this case, it’s all about bears and middle aged gay love.

Many straight folks are unaware of the bear subculture. Hardly a surprise, since a powerful majority rarely concerns itself with the doings of a marginalized minority. When, three or four years ago, I first mentioned bears to my straight colleagues in the English Department at Virginia Tech, none of them knew what I was talking about, though by now at least one of them calls me “The Bear.” Similarly, my heterosexual students, as expert as they might be on current media, seem equally ignorant about this topic.

Most GLBT folks, however, by now seem to know the basics. A “bear” is a hairy, bearded, brawny-to-bulky gay man, usually displaying aspects of traditional masculinity. A cub is a younger version of the same; a wolf is a lean, hairy man; an otter a young version of that. “Woof!” is a lustful expression, meaning essentially: “Tasty! I’d like to climb all over that!” “Grrrrr!” means much the same. As you can see, after twenty-some years of development, the bear community, like any subculture, has its own jargon, sometimes called “bearspeak” or “vocubulary.” It also has its own values, its own style, and its own commodities. There are bear-oriented bars, festivals, music, movies, magazines, and books. There are regional clubs for bears not only in metropolitan centers, where the communities first developed, but also in rural areas.

A 2007 marketing survey conducted by A Bear’s Life magazine, a lifestyle-oriented quarterly glossy, estimated that there are more than 1.4 million men in the U.S. who identify as bears. That’s a lot of beards, body hair, and brawn, and a considerable market niche among queer-identified groups.

The paint is very think and this allows me to use the reverse end of the brush and pencils to etch hair into the paint surface. I’m also attempting to work with brush work and thick and thin paint in a more stylized and calligraphic way. I want the paint to be thickest where the light is the brightest and thinner in the darker areas. The direction of the brush strokes is meant to follow and amplify the contours of the forms and make it feel more tangible.

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