Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Issue 24, December 2012—Trans / Queer Issue)

Simon Croft
Imprints: Paint(ing)s (2006); Hair Shirt (2005); Nuts (2006)

When I started making art about 12 years ago, one question that I found myself asking repeatedly was “Where’s the rest of our [trans people’s] art?” At that point, there seemed to be relatively little accessible in the UK that wasn’t photography, film or performance work. These media were, and continue to be, enormously important – but where was our abstract art, our painting, our sculpture, our object making, our installations, our fiction, our theatre, our music?

[scroll left to right]

Paint(ing)s (2006)

The paint(ing)s explore the nature of paint as a material and paint solidification as a process. Paint relates both to portraiture and to decoration of a house and so these pieces to me have a strong connection to identity. They also have a connection to truth or perceived truth - they are made of paint, but are they paintings? Are they more fully paintings in some sense than the ones which include a wooden frame and canvas and nails?

Having explored the technique through the early numbered paint(ing)s, I created Paint(ing) My House.

One of the first things I was taught to draw as a child was a simple house. Four square walls, door in the middle, pitched roof, detached; not a real house, but the idea of a house.

It represents the life I was brought up to aspire to. It belongs to the world of 1970s picture book families with 2.4 kids and a dog playing in the (perfect) garden. It represents the body I was born into. It belonged to the world of all things female and the world tried to use it to define who I am.

Like a body, a house accepts the imprint of an owner, of a life lived. Its dilapidations give it character and interest; its repairs and modifications tell a story.

image of Paint(ing) #1

Paint(ing) #1 – Block with turned strips

image of Paint(ing) #4

Paint(ing) #4 – Surface with loose cubes

Painting #4 has a simple board substrate below the surface, but the cubes are not fixed; the paint remains mobile, but mobile as a series of solid cubes.

image of Paint(ing) #4 – Version 2

Paint(ing) #4 – Surface with loose cubes, Version 2

image of Paint(ing) My House

Paint(ing) My House

Hair Shirt

Even though it was 15 years ago now, I clearly recall the disproportionate importance to me of finding that first beard hair after starting on testosterone (T), of growing the beard itself, of presenting that sign of visible masculinity which most men are able to take for granted. I remember my impatience as I waited for the T-induced physical changes, keen to get the chance finally to grow up and put on my adult ‘clothes.’

By presenting the image as an enlarged medium format photograph, printed at the size of a real-life T-shirt, the viewer can see details of the material not readily apparent in the life size piece – differences in colour of the hairs, differences in thickness and shape, some straight, some twisted, kinked or uneven; differences in the sharp edges of the ends of the hair – some cut square, some at sharp angles that look rather like needle tips.

The work also subverts the idea of a hair shirt as penitence and reclaims it as a subject of pride. For me, it is very important to be proud to own a trans-body and to resist institutions and conventions that demand otherwise.

image of Hair Shirt: Part 2 (2005)

Hair Shirt: Part 2 (2005)

Medium format photograph, 590 x 650mm.

Hair Shirt: Part 1 is made of beard hairs individually glued into muslin in the shape of a T-shirt. It reflects on clothing as a metaphor for the body; as a body is clothed by fabric, so a person is clothed by their body.

Hair Shirt: Part 2 is a photographic enlargement of this.

image of Hair Shirt: Part 1 (2005)

Hair Shirt: Part 1 (2005)

Nuts (2006)

This piece comments on the fact that making assumptions based on initial appearances is often flawed – something we have all undoubtedly both done and experienced.

It also comments on masculinity generally – raising the question about how / to what extent each of us constructs our masculinity, how we use ‘typically masculine’ signifiers (or not) – playing on stereotypical ideas of masculinity – engineering, nuts and bolts, metal work etc – and questions what masculinity really is.

Nuts and bolts drilled into brass plate, hanging from wire

Nuts (2006)

Nuts and bolts drilled into brass plate, hanging from wire


Brass plate, zinc plated steel, 6mm nuts and bolts, steel hawser, crimp fittings.

The crucial factor in this piece is its method of construction. The bolts do not pierce the plate, as most people assume. And if you look closely, there are clues that tell you it can’t be made that way. What is actually there is a labour intensive process of construction in which every single bolt has been hand sawn in two and glued to a solid plate.

This doesn’t mean that the item itself is somehow ‘fake’ or ‘wrong’ – it just points out that the assumptions aren’t true. Is what you see really what you get for any of us?

It’s also humorous – it represents a pair of testicles (nuts). I find an element of playfulness is often useful in getting a serious point across. Sometimes it’s when I’m playing around and not being so serious that I have a light bulb moment.

Paint(ing) #1 and Paint(ing) My House are made of nothing but paint, dried in layers, cut up and reassembled using more paint to hold them together; the moment in time that the paint solidified permanently captured as part of its physical being.

In recent years there’s been increasingly visible diversity in art, developing what Transfabulous 2006 (a trans arts festival held in London) called a ‘culture of transness’ – a vibrant, creative, all-embracing culture stemming from gender non-conformance in all its diverse forms.

A key motivation for me is to make some contribution, however small, to that culture. I believe creative works of all kinds – fine art, theatre, dance, books, performance, comedy, film - play a vital role in broadening the visibility of trans, gender variant and queer lives and in developing visible and valued communities.

My current practice involves making work that reflects on my experiences as a transman. Although my work stems from being trans, that fact isn’t always obvious. Much of it could be interpreted without reference to that aspect of my life at all. Similarly, my work often references the physical body, but rarely shows it, as I specifically seek alternative ways to discuss being trans.

I frequently work with themes of change, transformation and the idea of ‘constructive destruction.’ I produce mainly objects, videos and photographs which are essentially records of an event or process. Typically my art involves everyday or DIY materials that reflect aspects of home, self-reliance and the personal – like silicon sealant, nuts and bolts, fibreboard underlay, mirror tiles, edible jelly, PVA glue or household paint; or personal materials like beard hair or eyelashes.

Process is usually central to my work. I might set up a process and let it run toward an uncertain outcome; I might cycle processes such as wetting something till it collapses, drying the pieces and rebuilding them; or heating and cooling; or drying, cutting and reassembling.

To me, process parallels transition – it’s a journey on which you don’t know quite where you might end up; often with unexpected discoveries along the way; the detours you make and the challenges you face and the solutions you have to find are often the most interesting part – the part that leads somewhere new and teaches you something.

Process leaves its mark. I see the lived-in face as more beautiful than a ‘perfect’ airbrushed one; the scars on a body as the tracks that lead to that body’s future, and that may enable it to have a future.

I work with materials in the same way – a material might not be perfect, there might be limitations, but what can you make of it? How can you push it; what can you make it do? How can you use something familiar in a new way?

I seek to talk about my trans experiences in a way which emphasizes what they have in common with shared human experience rather than what is different / other. Talking about issues such as change, loss, growing up, learning, joy, exploring and becoming who you are is universal. I believe that once divorced from direct images of physical trans-bodies, the choices we make regarding our bodies, how we present them and what that reveals, take on a wider relevance and accessibility. In adopting this abstract approach, I hope to make work which, though based on my experience of being trans, resonates with a wider audience.