South Side Art Show Explores Ideas About Masculinity

Jul 12, 2019

The practice known as “rolling coal” suggests a burst of literal toxic masculinity. It involves diesel trucks modified to belch heavy plumes of black soot, whether as a prank or as an internally combusted assertion of machismo (or, in some cases, political protest).

"Rolling Coal" runs Fri., July 12-Sun., July 14. Terminal Building, Bay #37, 333 E. Carson St., South Side. Opening reception: 5-10 p.m. Fri., July 12.

But in naming their new exhibit “Rolling Coal,” local artists Seth LeDonne and Derek Reese don’t mean to lecture. Rather, they are exploring the possibilities of what “manhood” can be.

LeDonne grew up in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, Reese in rural and suburban West Virginia, near Morgantown. Both know what it’s like being a boy who loves art in a place where that’s not seen as masculine. Now in their 30s, they’re ready to look back with irony as well as insight.

“As a young boy and young man who was interested in the arts, I felt like I spent most of my time running away from that culture, distancing myself from that culture,” said Reese. “It really wasn’t until I moved away, and lived in different parts of the country and finally to Pittsburgh, that I really felt like a West Virginian, and someone who was really able to start processing what it is to be from a specific place, and what it means to be a man from West Virginia.”

Art by Seth LeDonne
Credit Courtesy of the artist

The three-day exhibit, in the South Side’s Terminal Building, opens Friday. The pop-up show, curated by Tina Dillman, features about a dozen solo works and collaborations, including paintings, mixed-media works, sculptures and installations.

Reese's mixed-media works incorporate everyday objects like a Band-Aid, and a pink, snub-nosed water pistol nesting in artificial grass. One of his abstracts is made from concrete, a swatch of bright-blue plastic cut from a laundry basket, and a single burnt match.

“So I’m really talking about sort of self-destruction, the hardness and the coldness of some of the traditional masculine norms that Seth and I are [addressing],” he said. “Getting through and getting past and rising above those types of things.”

LeDonne’s works often incorporate text in a wry or poetic way. One features the phrase “impending doom,” but over the latter word is superimposed the words “dad bod” as reference to how his own body is changing as he ages.

“Kind of looking at something that, it’s a little bit funny, but there’s also that seriousness to it,” he said.

“For me what’s interesting are the part of my maleness that I don’t dislike or don’t make me uncomfortable,” he added.

Reese characterized his take on the theme as a bit more “angsty” than LeDonne’s.

“There are aspects of masculinity that I sort of distance myself from that are actually a part of me,” he said. “My tendency to sort of deal with things in a violent way. … [D]ealing with frustrations in a violent way, lashing out, punching a couch … That’s one specific way I see my toxic masculine self sort of revealing itself.”

LeDonne noted that the pair’s choice of materials is also sometimes telling.

“The inclusion of something like a laundry basket is also perhaps defying these made-up gender roles and jobs that we have -- something that you might consider ‘women’s work,’” he said. “Another element of what we’re trying to look at is where do these sort of roles that we’ve been taught growing up, where do they begin and end, and how can they change and develop and evolve?”

The show is supported by the co-working space Beauty Shoppe.