Art & Design

March 20, 2017

The Artist Exploring Gym Culture & The Body Beautiful

Expect live workouts in the gallery

  • Written by Zac Bayly
Australian artist Michael Zavros creates ultra-realistic paintings that reflect his interest in beauty in all its forms — from his own (super-DILFy) body, to his cherubic children, flowers, horses and Gucci slippers. His new exhibition Magic Mike at Newcastle Art Gallery in Sydney showcases highlights from his career, with live local gym bunnies working up a sweat in front of the art works. We met the artist in his expansive studio out in the bush in Queensland.


What’s the concept behind your latest exhibition?
It explores the idea of the body beautiful in art, specifically concepts of male beauty, underscoring contemporary society’s obsession with beauty and youth. These are age-old preoccupations. The exhibition’s title playfully references virtuoso painting and ‘magic’ realism, as well as borrowing the title from the film. Channing Tatum is a contemporary equivalent of an ancient Adonis: the male form perfected. Mediating on this theme of the perfected form, I created a performance in collaboration with local gymnasiums. The gallery is turned into a gym, reflecting an interest in the sociocultural phenomenon of ‘gym culture’, narcissism and Vanitas, as well as Newcastle’s acknowledged outdoor lifestyle. The performances are at designated times in which a ‘performer’ will complete a gym routine in front of works in the exhibition. The performance and the exhibition explore beauty as a power, a contemporary currency revered above all else.


What’s your relationship with the idea of perfection?
I don’t know if I’m a perfectionist or just a control freak. There have been times in my life when the only thing I was in control of, the only thing I could truly get right was my work. And in some ways it’s been the one constant for me since I was a child. This thing I could do — recreate whatever I was looking at with a pencil. And improving that – perfecting that – became important. But that technical perfection becomes central to what I’m making, not just how I’m making it.

What artists do you admire who explore similar concepts, but in different ways to you?
I love the postmodern gods like Koons and Prince. I admire their humour and showmanship and their slippery approach to authorship. But mostly I find myself drawn to great masters, artists who could deliver something clever or beautiful that speaks to us centuries later.


What are your tips for getting the perfect body?
I’ll let you know when I get there. In some ways I’m in better shape then I was as a young man. In my 20s I was too focused on being bigger so I ate more than I needed to and lifted weights. As I get older I focus less on the bits I want to be bigger than on what needs to be smaller, so this makes for a healthier, fitter mind and body. I run and swim mostly and do a little bit of gym work. I’d love a six-pack but not as much as I enjoy a nice glass of wine in the evening!

What got you in to gym culture?
I started going to the gym when I was 15 because I’d had a car accident and broken my leg badly. After six months of not using it I was made to work it and working out just became a part of my life. I think this coincided with a real fashion for building bigger bodies, larger and also more defined than in previous decades. It’s funny how being in shape can start to define you. Only now that I have an injury (my arm, not my painting arm) and I’m not allowed to work out, do I realise how much it informs my identity.


How does living in the bush affect you and your approach to work?
Fresh air and sunshine is just great for the body and soul. But living and working in a vacuum I think is crucial for a career artist. Living in cities and engaging with the art world on a regular basis is more for artists on the make. My work engages with the art world now – I don’t have to. I think the art world can be stifling and create too much doubt for artists. It’s always served me well to be away from it.

Magic Mike runs until 28th May at Newcastle Art Gallery


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