Those who have been to a drag club (or caught an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race) know that campiness and kitsch are staples of drag culture. By inverting the gender stereotypes and taking them to the extreme, queens mock the conventions of gender and the consumer society that enforces them. Peter Shmelzer takes cues from this type of satirical play with his over-the-top paintings, where gender boundaries are broken and erotic acts become contorted into bizarre, uncomfortable displays.
A portly, headless male body dons high heels and shiny, red nail polish; female bodies flex their body builder-sized muscles; two identical male bodies performing a sex act are melted into one disproportionate anatomy. Shmelzer’s visual language — one of airbrushed-looking skin, gleaming eyes and pearly white smiles — is one we often see in magazines and advertising. But the artist completely subverts his viewers’ expectations of macho men and svelte ladies, presenting instead bodies that have been hybridized, compartmentalized and otherwise mutated. Many of his characters have several limbs or missing heads, and furniture and inanimate objects have eyes in a Pee-wee’s Playhouse sort of way. But Shmelzer invites us to laugh amid all this madness. Like a good drag performance, his work reminds us not to take the world and its norms so seriously.