I have featured many images in this blog showing a naked captive threatened by clothed attackers and such imagery is commonplace in the movies (e.g. Casino Royale). It is amazing how a few splashes of red turn such an image into something much more difficult to accept and, sadly, how much more real this scenario seems.
There is obviously an erotic dimension to this piece, spelt out by the exposed flesh, the site of the wounds and, more subtly, the guns (the guns!). However, there is no sexual interaction going in a conventional sense. You might suppose that both parties find it arousing, certainly the captive, who for once is both muscled and defiant, bravely confronting an inescapable, seemingly grisly fate.
These two attackers might easily have attracted his admiring attention on the street, their faces are not ugly but they are grotesquely contorted in expression of their sadistic pleasure. Cloaking them in Hell's Angels trappings suggests wildness and a capacity for unrestrained violence that greatly adds to our forebodings of a very bad ending for this victim.
Interestingly the central figure's face seems to show the characteristics of a black man although his skin is white. Greasetank's faces often blur racial characteristics, it's all part of his exploration of eroticism and this experimentation is a clue to understanding his art.
In this image there's a similar ambiguity about the dark-skinned captive whose face belongs to Greasetank's neutral, 'victim' persona more than any distinctive racial group. The noose is probably a more eloquent symbol of race hate. We know that this scene (like Greasetank's depictions of queer bashing and drive-by shootings) reflect real events that happen in the U.S.A. and are not simply the invention of some perverted imagination, but notice that there is no appeal to our sense of injustice, no clues to what has precipitated this scene, apart from the symbolic, frothing beer bottle and self satisfied grins. Those grins are part of some well-observed laddishness that might be quite attractive in a different context. In fact there's a strange sense that these muscular men are seducing their victim into his fate. That idea becomes more explicit in my next example.
There is much controversy generated by Greasetank's use of facist imagery in some of his pictures. Greasetank was born shortly after the Second World War and reached his formative years towards the end of the 60's when the true enormity of the Nazi war crimes against civilians and minorities was finally being grasped by the world, long after the initial horror of piled-up bodies had been digested. At this time the Swastika and 'SS' symbols were synonymous with almost unimaginable, ruthless and terrifying cruelty in a way that is hard for younger people to truly understand. We presently stand in a similar revelatory position to the atrocities of the Yugoslav wars and it is likely that in the years to come the black flag of ISIS will achieve a similar shameful notoriety that we barely comprehend as yet. When Greasetank uses Nazi imagery in his pictures he is not promoting their ideas, but rather is symbolising in his thuggish characters the same threat of remorseless, unbounded cruelty driven by a twisted, ideological motivation.
(click on title)
These men are not soldiers of the 3rd Reich but have merely donned (over-sized) elements of that garb. It signals evil, but with those enviable physiques and goofy, seductive smiles, Greasetank makes it hard for us to see them as callous brutes. But here they are re-enacting the worst excesses of that hated regime, gently ushering their (blind?) victim into a steel chamber with a friendly, teasing tweak of the nipple while holding a lethal canister in hand.
This is a more developed example of how Greasetank depicts victims, diminishing them and deliberately contrasting them with the health and physical attractiveness of their captors and tormentors. In other pictures he takes it further, showing us emaciated, shaven-headed figures who still haven't suffered enough to be spared more torture. Why depict such cruelty?
Because of the death camp associations, these images shock and repel the intellect even more than the blood splattered ones. However, in the series of pictures of which this is a part, the striking characterisations give you an eerie sense of witnessing something disturbingly real and of gaining fleeting insights into the psychology of evil. It's not sexy of course but the thrill of horror we get is frighteningly similar. Our confusion is increased by the appearance of the perpetrators who, removed from this narrative, would seem quite attractive.
It's interesting to test yourself here. How would you feel if the roles were reversed in this scenario and the sexy bullies were to become the victims, ushered to their fate by corpse-like beings? Would that seem as horrific? Sexy? Is this what Greasetank is inviting us to do?
These images are part of a progression in Greasetank's work. If you review the other examples in this article you will see the same theme of unequal protagonists and callous indifference - no, of positive pleasure - in threatening and inflicting suffering. According to Greasetank that progression chronicles his testing of his own limits in linking violence and sex, love and hate. You can either go along with him on this basis or bail out at some point according to your own values.
However, we all bring our own experience to these pictures and if you feel you having suffered injustice yourself, as many gay people do, then you may well feel a strange sense of recognition in the plight of these victims. To still be able then to see attractiveness in his perpetrators becomes all the more disturbing. To admire them or desire them seems the most extreme type of masochism. I suppose it's an example of the Stockholm syndrome at work. Alternatively, you may mentally join forces with these terrible men, taking the chance in fantasy to mete out violence as carelessly as they do. Greasetank presents us with these frightening thoughts which no doubt he shared himself.
Image self-censored by author - see comments below
This image is part of a similar scene to the one above but I shrink from reproducing it in full. There are enough clues here to what the missing part contains but you'll need to join a specialist group like GMBA to find the unedited version. You'll probably have noticed how adept Greasetank is in using lighting to highlight the characteristics, good and bad, in his men in a sensual way and this is a striking example which serves to emphasise their unpleasantness too.
The masculine allure he manages to engineer for these dreadful characters does not just come from their obvious physical attributes, but from the facial expressions and body stances he gives them. These are highly authentic and convincing. He captures something very real about how men are, their personality if you like. It's a skill unmatched by most artists in this genre who tend to be preoccupied with the anatomical and the carnal. The result is some very seductive images despite their appalling subject matter.
Greasetank's work was seen as controversial and shocking in it's day and still is, but that is not a particularly enlightening response. Why do we find violence attractive or perhaps arousing? Even when it's directed against the most undeserving? Even against people just like ourselves? Even when the violence is repulsive, why do we still want to look on, not to witness the suffering but, in Greasetanks art, to watch the pleasure it's perpetrators get from it?
It might be more appropriate to compare his work with the Freddie Kruger school of movie making which uses (more subtly) the same ingredients - attractive, teenage lovers interrupted by an axe-wielding murderer. At root, Greasetank's work is simply erotic horror art and it's lush sensuality is testimony to that. But he takes some real, major social/ethical issues as his starting point and shines a cold, disturbing light on them which speaks for itself. Giving them an unreal sexual dimension is not really contributing to any political debate, any more than Freddy Kruger's rampages tell us anything about mental health, if anything both subvert the discussion.
For that reason I conclude with this picture from the 'Vietnam' group. It shows his skill with figure drawing focused more overtly on the erotic content. The callous violence still subtly hovers in the background but arguably adds little to this particular piece which conceptually is a close relative of 'River Shooting' in Part 1 of this article.
Greasetank said his art would become uninteresting when it was neither attractive nor repulsive. Most of his art is striving to be both, portraying sexuality, menace and threat, and giving fears a tangible expression. Most gay men will relate to those ideas in their own inner lives. He does go further than most to make the threat seem extreme and his most heavy-handed examples infuse the rest of his work too with a flavour of looming evil and danger that is nevertheless fascinating. The outcome is disturbing but illuminating for the open-minded.
Read this article from Part 1
text updated Jan 2017, Mar 2018