UB student Cole Pawlowski’s work turns to the human body for inspiration
UB student uses human bodily fluids to create art
Artist Cole Pawlowski has been working on an experimental series of paintings that use bodily fluids to prompt self-reflection on how we conceive of our sexuality.
Artist Cole Pawlowksi has been channeling his creative muse since childhood, but the sophomore psychology major’s work has recently taken an experimental turn.
In late 2014, he began work on a sex-themed series starting with the piece “37 Ejaculations: With Pollock in Mind.”
“Yes, it is exactly what you think it is,” Pawlowski said. “Human semen on canvas which has dried to form various abstract patterns.”
The piece’s title refers to Jackson Pollock, the 20th century painter who pioneered the famous drip technique.
Pawlowski’s other ejaculation-themed pieces have included “The Feel Good Constellations” and “The Eight Lonely and Not So Lonely Little Yellow Islands.”
The series has been polarizing. Responses have ranged “from shock and disgust, to support and critical acclaim,” which Pawlowski attributes to the context in which the work has been exhibited. Rather than being shown alongside artwork of a similar experimental strain, the semen-based pieces have debuted in the company of more conventional art.
Acutely aware that his art is controversial, Pawlowski stands by his creation.
“I have nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. “I am proud of the art that I make, and I will continue to create no matter how the public responds, and if they choose not to support me or my art form, then that is perfectly okay.”
According to Pawlowski’s website, his piece 37 Ejaculations aims to “aid in the demystification of human sexuality and the eventual ridding of our embarrassment pertaining to natural bodily functions.”
The power of his work lies in its ability to prompt self-reflection. The nature of the medium elicits responses deep-rooted in beliefs that Pawlowski encourages viewers to reconsider.
“I think that the way people respond to these works reveals something important about their own comfort level with regard to sex, love, intimacy, and masturbation,” Pawlowski said.
From explicit comments to subtle shifts in body language, a viewer’s initial reaction reveals certain secrets about their attitudes toward sexuality, privacy and morality.
Even viewers of the most liberal sensibilities are likely to experience some twinge of initial discomfort with the concept of bodily fluids put on exhibit. Pawlowski’s work raises a vitally important question: Why?
The use of human body fluids as art materials is a relatively recent innovation, taking hold in the 20th century as a handful of experimental artists began to use body matter and excrement for various creative purposes.
Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ”—a photograph depicting a crucifix submerged in urine—is arguably the most famous and controversial of these works. The piece inspired enormous backlash, having been vandalized on numerous occasions and prompting death threats against gallery management and Serrano himself.
As much as it is about process and composition, body fluid art is about taking an almost scientific look at the properties of our own “stuff,” divorcing the matter from its “cultural baggage” to examine it as its own entity.
Andy Warhol’s “Oxidations” series, for example, used human urine as a method to create abstract patterns by inducing oxidation on metal surfaces. More dramatically, Marc Quinn’s deeply unsettling “Self” series was created by freezing pints of his own blood into casts of his head.
Taking a step back from our conceptions of the profane, these mediums reveal a lot by encouraging viewers to consider and question them both with objectivity and with an aesthetic eye.
How does uric acid react with metallic pigment? What is the color of frozen blood? What mental impression is made by Serrano’s amber-colored urine? Pawlowski’s work asks the same question about semen.
Because this sort of work carries the implication of the creative process and its explicit details, the use of body fluids as art materials can be considered a variety of performance art in that the process by which a piece is created is just as important as its physical features.
The performance may take place in the viewer’s head, but the fact that the creative act is reconstructed with the mind’s eye makes it no less performance art. The process by which Quinn obtained his own blood for his “Self” series, for example, is only implied by the work. The viewers’ mental recreations and impressions of that act are limited only by the constraints of their imaginations.
With a broad range of inspirations, Pawlowski’s ejaculation-themed series accounts for only a piece of his diverse portfolio, which has explored a range of political and philosophical topics in addition to more personal themes.
Having recently returned to his studies at UB after a year-long academic hiatus during which he dedicated himself to his craft and worked as a security guard at Buffalo’s renowned Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Pawlowski finds himself wrestling with the same uncertainty as many college students when he considers his future.
Rather than setting a specific direction for his art career, Pawlowski is allowing his practice to develop organically.
“I think that I would be doing a great disservice to myself and my work to simply plan on reaching in one particular direction,” he said. “I couldn’t possibly account for what may influence me tomorrow, next year or 50 years down the line.”
The next years will see if Pawlowski continues in his sex-themed work. The only thing that is sure is that he will keep making art according to his creative ethos, which he describes as “a celebration of diversity.”
In the meantime, he looks forward to debuting what he described as his favorite work, an eight-foot-by-four-foot acrylic painting titled “Celebrate the Ignorance.” The piece has yet to be displayed in a gallery or on his website.
Pawlowski’s ejaculation-themed art is exemplary of his broad-minded philosophy, probing viewers to look inwards and examine their own reactions and attitudes.
Rather than going through great lengths to separate the self from its bodily functions, Pawlowski’s art is a reminder to embrace these processes as innate and natural.
“People often say there is no reason for anyone to feel ashamed of themselves or the skin they’re in,” Pawlowski writes on his website. “It’s about time we start believing in it.”
Luke Heuskin is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org