For the painter Kenney Mencher, older men are classical beauties.
Mencher describes that when he paints men of a certain age, he can’t help but think of them as Olympian gods or heroes. For example, when he painted his Monumental Silver Fox, 36×48 inches oil on gallery stretched canvas the 57-year-old artist couldn’t help but think of Zeus. “Not the Russell Crowe version from the most recent Thor film”, he jokes. Although, Mencher admits, “Crowe is still pretty hot even in that cheese fest of a film. Still, I kind of prefer the depictions of older men from antiquity, such as in Homer’s Odyssey.”
Bears are winners, especially in the classical world. Odysseus, in his legendary journey home, is the epitome of the hot daddy bear.
Mencher describes how his professor put that image in the young artist’s head. His professor, who was a blatant flirt, looked at his adoring student and said, “In fact, there’s a whole section of the Odyssey devoted to describing how Odysseus was a middle-aged man but was still considered beautiful and potent.”
Odysseus was in his late forties, possibly even in his early fifties by the time he washed up on a beach on the island of Scheria, home of the Phaeacians.
The princess Nausicaa, instantly develops a crush on him, escorts him home and treats him as a guest of honor and gives him a boat and crew to go home with.
Just before he’s to set sail, there’s a bon voyage celebration complete with athletic games. At the games, a bunch of the athletic “twinks”, throw him some shade. He looks his age. They jest that he looks like an “old merchant.” Although his arms and legs are muscular and powerful, he is no longer as capable or as beautiful as they are. Odysseus picks up a heavy stone discus, hurtles it so hard, fast, and far, that he outperforms the youths around him. The discus is a missile. They duck; it whistles over their heads. This is a scene many daddies experience daily at the gym. The young guys give side eye. . . then wide eye, as they get shown who their daddy is.
When Kenney Mencher paints bears and older men, he conceives of them as heroic, even godlike. Mencher likes the classics and it informs his art. He explains:
“My Poseidon Bear, is based on the Artemision Bronze (often called the God from the Sea). The Artemision Bronze is an ancient Greek sculpture that was recovered from the sea off Cape Artemision, in northern Euboea, Greece. It’s this wonderful thick waisted, bearded, middle aged man throwing either a trident or thunderbolt. My guy is an updated version, but I wanted the paint and textures to feel sculptural.”
The paint in Mencher’s Poseidon is applied in thick pasty layers which in Italian is called “impastos.” The paint is applied in layers over several days. Starting with a thin washy coat, additional layers and textures are built up with rough, stiff, hog’s hair bristle brushes to enhance the surface. His goal is to build the paint surface up so that the textures and brushwork feel like skin. The textures simulate the planes and contours of the muscles and skin. The sky is different but still tangibly composed of layers of thin paint followed by thicker coats of paint that are literally troweled on. In person, one wants to touch the painting.
Sometimes Mencher describes himself as taken with a subject or an art historical idea. For example, many artists from the classical world and well into the Baroque periods painted “River Gods.” Mencher has painted several “river gods.”
Mencher was a professor of Art History for nearly thirty years and explains that he can’t get it out of his head. Many of his paintings are conscious or unconscious references to the sculptures and paintings he taught. For example, Mencher has a lifelong obsession with one sculpture, from the pediment of the Greek classical building, the Parthenon, from around 450 BCE of a reclining figure “Ilissos the River God.” Now housed in the British Museum, this marble statue from the West pediment of the Parthenon was designed by Pheidias, about 438-432 BCE. The anatomy and pose are intriguing and for Mencher, the incomplete quality of the sculpture provided a chance for him to reimagine what the original model and pose might have looked like.
Mencher is one of those rare artists, who while appreciating male beauty, is seeking to celebrate the heroic qualities of men who don’t fit into the young twinkish stereotypes of beauty.
“It takes a lot of strength to be an older gay man in our world. I’m just hoping that my work helps men who are my age and build to see themselves as beautiful and deserving of some admiration.”