Kevin Sabo, a new star of painting and queer transformative performance

New York-based Kates-Ferri Projects will have a dedicated booth at Chelsea Industrial, part of the New York Art Week, for Kevin Sabo (31), a rising art-world star known for his surrealist paintings depicting his queer experience. Răzvan Ion visited the fair and comments on the impressive evolution in Sabo’s work.

“Screeeech!” 20×16 inches. Acrylic, Pencil on Canvas. 2023. Courtesy of the artist.

The characters within Kevin Sabo’s vast collection of works have a singular aura that is both unconventional and bold, simultaneously fearsome and intimidating yet tender and approachable Sabo’s signature style, an ethereal fusion of vibrant hues and intricate textures, manifests as an eccentric and provocative subculture of pop art. Each piece invites viewers to delve into a surreal realm of both playful and edgy motifs, imbued with an unmistakable sense of audacity and mystique.

In an era where pop culture dominates the zeitgeist, Kevin Sabo has carved out a unique niche as a self-proclaimed enthusiast for gay pop culture. With an unwavering passion for the subject, Sabo unabashedly admits to being a “fanatic” consumed by his addiction to the genre.

Sabo concedes that his deep knowledge of gay pop culture does not necessarily contribute to his intellectual acuity. Nevertheless, he remains undeterred in his obsession, convinced that his fascination with the subject serves a greater purpose.

Sabo’s unbridled enthusiasm for this particular aspect of popular culture is a testament to the power of fandom and its ability to imbue even the most seemingly trivial pursuits with significance. As he himself notes, there is an undeniable allure to the world of gay pop culture that has captivated him and compelled him to delve deeper into its nuances.

 

But I’m a Star!, acrylic, graphite on canvas with painted canvas on wood, cutout, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and Unit London. 2023 73.66 x 40.64

Despite the perceived frivolity of his interests, Sabo’s unyielding devotion to this subculture speaks to a larger truth about the role of art and entertainment in our lives. Whether through music, film, or other forms of media, these cultural touchstones serve as a means of connection, uniting individuals across borders and boundaries in a shared appreciation of a common experience.

For Sabo, his love of gay pop culture represents not just a personal fixation, but a rich source of membership to a community of like-minded individuals who share in this passion. In this way, his addiction takes on a greater meaning, becoming a symbol of identity and a source of comfort in a world that can often feel isolating and disconnected.

Kevin Sabo focuses exclusively on painting, which is presented as large sketches since the result is never predetermined. Through his works, there is a clear reference to portrait and its redefinition through the incorporation of queer identities into an aesthetic influenced by pop culture and Bimbo core. His figures, dressed in garish clothes, zigzag prints, platforms, and over-the-top colours, recall aesthetic phenotypes established in the nineties by the likes of Britney Spears, Lil Kim, the Spice Girls, or TLC, as well as drag queens such as Most Softest Pillow, Bo Quinn and Richmond performer Wacky Jacky.  The result is paintings that are just as fun and cutting as the women to which they pay homage.

Through his recent introduction of the butterfly motif, the artist alludes to the pivotal moment in metamorphosis when the caterpillar emerges from its cocoon, transformed into a fabulous, fluttering creature ready to dazzle the world with its newfound brilliance.

Feeling Shoppy, acrylic, graphite on canvas, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and United London.

Few artistic subjects are as provocative and endlessly fascinating as drag, which has challenged social and sexual norms for decades with its bold, gender-bending message. From the pioneering works of Surrealist visionary Marcel Duchamp and his legendary female persona, Rrose Sélavy, famously immortalized by the great Man Ray, to the Pop art masterpieces of Andy Warhol, the art of gender performance has always been a source of both creativity and rebellion. Now, Sabo brings a contemporary take on this rich tradition, introducing a personal narrative of queer fantasy that explores themes of transformation, renewal and self-discovery in a way that feels both ground-breaking and deeply moving.

For Sabo, the process of creating a painting is a ritualistic act of transformation, akin to layering on clothing or applying makeup. With deft strokes of vibrant acrylic, Sabo imbues their canvases with a raw, punk-inspired energy that captures the artist’s rebellious spirit. By daring to reveal their own vulnerabilities and imperfections, Sabo hopes to inspire others to do the same, and to embrace their own twisted, unconventional beauty with confidence and pride. A kind of transformative performance.

Photography from Metal Mag.

“My paintings are my drag. Colours and patterns are my joy, and jagged lines are my pain. Each time I enter the studio, I play dress up inside the compositions I invent. These busty babes know all my past secrets, and their pursed lips hold my untold future.” says Sabo.

The third annual Future Fair is an art fair focusing on ultra-contemporary works, that will bring together 54 galleries from 19 countries at Chelsea Industrial from May 11-13, as part of New York Art Week.

 

Răzvan Ion is the founder of GAY45. A professor of curatorial studies and critical thinking in Vienna, he is passionate about technology, comic books, the stock market, art, alternative music, movies, literature, and blockchain.

 

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