Galleries: Jessica Dawson reviews A.B. Miner show at new G Fine Art

By Jessica Dawson
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 26, 2010

What would you give to live a day, a month or even a year inside someone else's body, a body of the opposite sex? It's the titillating stuff of escapist fantasies: If you're a woman, you could hear silence where biological clocks once ticked. If you're a man, you'd never again fear for that pesky prostate.

But submitting to the scalpel because you're desperately unhappy with your gender? Now that's major.

Artist A.B. Miner, 32, bade farewell to his breasts forever in January 2007, electing for a double mastectomy with reconstruction, as that element of female-to-male gender reassignment surgery is called. By then he had been on hormone therapy for two years. He had changed his name. Now it was time for the next step in realizing a dream he'd had since he was a teenage girl: to be a man.

The procedure's effects must have fascinated Miner, because he photographed himself at regular intervals post-surgery. Working from those photographs, he painted a 12-panel work about the contortions of his flesh. "From There to Here" is the centerpiece of Miner's modestly sized solo show inaugurating G Fine Art's new location.

Miner reports the intervals like a baby's progress, using dates to title each panel -- Twelve days post-op. One month. Five weeks. Thirty-six weeks. Nine months. One year. Together, the abutting panels stretch 16 feet along a gallery wall.

Every one zeros in on the artist's (former) breasts, now pecs, as they journey from weeping wounds to permanent scars. The pictures are tightly cropped, generating a staccato line of color and form.

Miner captures the rawness in gooey daubs of pigment. He puts down smears of color that work off each other, clashing in some areas, blending harmoniously in others. The effect is that of a Fauve, muted.

In the days right after surgery, Miner's palette is chalky. He goes heavy on pinks and whites to mimic the ruptured flesh. Lines of dark brown and black evoke cracked skin and dried blood. As the series progresses rightward, Miner's cool tones warm and his darks diffuse into shadows defining a plumper, more robust torso.

The brutality of some of these panels -- the first weeks after surgery are gruesome -- brings other bodily mortifications to mind: breast jobs, nose jobs, face- and eye-lifts. How commonplace such drastic measures have become, and how common for many of us to deride them. (Fake boobs? Too-tight face-lifts? We'd never do that!)

But here, facing the raw visual facts, such desperate measures feel more human -- more brutal, yes, but actions that deserve our empathy. Very real psychic pain prompted these choices.

And very real risks accompany them. To flirt with infection and complication, to suffer drainage tubes and post-surgical binding, to see one's own flesh take on the pallor of a corpse -- Miner's work reminds us that the stakes are high. Even success, surgically speaking, produces a Grand Guignol of leaking body fluids and mangled flesh.

And though Miner's surgery wasn't a response to bodily change brought by age or Doritos, his work speaks to our deepest dissatisfactions and prompts us to wonder at their source.

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