John Arsenault’s current solo show, “A Ghost Is Occupying My Heart,” is on view at ClampArt Gallery NYC through February 5. While many of the works in the new exhibition are self-portraits, Arsenault is now incorporating evocative and emotional landscapes and still-life imagery, punctuating his vision with views outward, no longer solely presenting the viewer with photographs only of himself.
Since first picking up a camera, Arsenault has routinely turned his lens upon himself, producing an outlandish and absurd, wild and erotic account of his life as a gay artist. Exploring facets of his personal relationships, his sexuality, and his identity, Arsenault constructs scenarios that not only tell the story of his experiences but also comment on society at large. With a distinctive eye for the strange, the unexpected, and the laugh-out-loud ridiculous, he is not afraid to poke fun at himself and thus is able to comment on matters of broad cultural importance without seeming shrill or pedantic. The artist says of his new series of images, “Inspired by a desire to heal a broken heart and to find myself, I decided to strip myself down emotionally, often literally nude, in order to create a body of work that revealed my search and my pain as honestly as I could.”
Raised in a small town in northern Massachusetts, Arsenault moved to New York City in 1997 to pursue a degree in photography at the School of Visual Arts. He now resides in Los Angeles. Arsenault’s photographs are represented in the permanent collections of the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park, Kan., and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
The Advocate: Why are you a photographer?
John Arsenault: I create images because I have ideas that I feel inspired to try to make come to fruition. I use photography as my medium because a camera allows me to capture moments with friends and lovers or myself within landscapes and my personal surroundings.
What catches your eye?
What catches my eye is unlimited to what I can think of. The smell of a man, a sexy high heel, sunlight, the color of leaves during fall, gold necklaces, tattoos, the ocean, a long braid, flowers, the light streaming across the mountains in Palm Springs, creative people, weathered faces, color, a smile, thick hairy legs on a man, diamonds, water drops on a window after a storm, my friends, sunsets, men in dresses, reflections, lace, hands, fresh cut grass, honesty in a lover's eyes.
Tell us about your process or techniques.
I'm either inspired by an environment — which I then find a way to put myself within to create an image — or I have an idea that I want to create. Once I find the perfect surrounding I make the photograph.
How do you choose your subjects?
Most often I feel inspired by a person, their gesture, their being, and I want to capture it for a visual memory.
How do you describe your work?
My work is a visual diary.
What makes a good photograph or artwork to you?
Art is subjective and what I think is good doesn't matter, but what inspires me is authenticity.
What artists do you take inspiration from and why?
My inspiration comes from so many people. I'll name a few that tantalize my senses: Jim Hodges, Larry Collins, Jack Pierson, Freddie Mercury, Mark Morrisroe, Antony Hegarty, Stephen Shore, Beth Orton, Robert Motherwell, Nan Goldin, Siouxsie Sioux, Picasso, John Waters, David Sedaris, Robert Mapplethorpe, Wolfgang Tillmans, Norman Rockwell, Robyn, Andy Warhol, Edith Piaf, Tom of Finland.