Chicago duo BJ&Park explore the intersection of male sexuality, home decor and art
Thu. December 11, 2014 10:37 AM by Anthony Morgano
pillows, plates and wall art by bj&park
Pillows, plates and wall art featuring sketches of nude male models make sexy, sophisticated holiday gifts
"That was one of the things we wanted to do, was separate it from the pack," artist BJ Nash told ChicagoPride.com. "There are a million nude male artists out there...but instead of just doing the same kind of reproductions, like digital reproductions or archival reproductions or whatever that everybody's doing, we thought it would be kind of fun to apply it. And that I think comes from the illustration experience I have -- where illustrations are usually used commercially for some or other application."
An East Coast native, BJ loved to draw as a kid ("as do most children I suppose," he laughed) and excelled in art classes, going on to attend art school in Michigan. (BJ Nash, by the way, isn't his real name, and neither is Park's. Citing himself as a bad self-promoter, BJ explained to ChicagoPride that he finds it easier not to have his personal identity wrapped up in the project -- that, and some conservative clients in his "other professional life.") BJ moved to Chicago in 1985 where he continued to exercise his sketching skills at drawing groups featuring live models throughout the city.
BJ dabbled in fashion illustration for a time, even acquiring a rep in London, while working and supporting himself in the world of graphic design. For years, he says, he toyed with the idea of doing something with nude male drawings and finally found inspiration in the work of Italian artist Piero Fornasetti, who is most well-known for his plates laden with artistic images, some which line the walls of BJ's home and studio. The project allowed BJ to bring together his talents for sketching, figure drawing a la fashion illustration and the reproduction of graphic design.
"I've always sort of had that in the back of my head -- I think any artist sort of wants to do that, dreams of being able to do something -- and I think the application of the art on products was the part that was suddenly very interesting to me," BJ said.
A couple years back, he proposed the idea to a model friend with connections to the porn industry in LA ("even though I feel like I'm a million miles away from that world...people see nude male art and think of it as sexy") but feeling that the art wasn't being served, things didn't pan out. Then, at the beginning of this year, BJ met Park at a routine modeling session, and a friendship was born that soon took on a professional element as well.
"My sense is that we're a generation apart, which is kind of interesting that we've developed this friendship in spite of the fact that we're considerably different in age," BJ says of Park. "But yet our sensibilities are really alike...so I think there are lots of different aspects to [why we work so well together], but mostly it's chemistry."
The duo met through Model Mayhem, a website where prospective models post profiles and pictures for photographers, and less often artists like BJ, to browse. Initially, Park says he was mostly looking for easy money. Park developed a very real problem with alcohol during his long college years obtaining a film degree. He describes his life in Chicago as chaotic for a time -- he was in and out of halfway houses and programs while supporting himself with odd jobs, including some modeling. So when was first approached by BJ, Park never guessed it would lead to a friendship as well as a partnership.
"It basically ended up being something entirely different and it ended up becoming a really fulfilling experience," Park told ChicagoPride.com. "I'd done modeling for artists and photographers in the past and the trend was that I never liked their work. I thought it was more an excuse for these guys to like hang out with these young guys with their clothes off, but this time I really liked the art and the process and I thought 'yeah this is really great, this is something that I like being involved with and that I feel proud to be a part of.'"
And thus, BJ&Park was born. The duo gave themselves a deadline of Market Days to have a website up and running and materials to sell and when August rolled around they found themselves in a booth on Halsted, ready to do business. A visit to their website encourages perusers to "invite a little sexual energy into [their] home with fine art quality prints and decorative accessories that feature the nude male models of BJ&Park," promoting the art as "a man's touch," "a conversation piece" and "the last word in naughty gifts that he won't forget" and advertising the great relationship BJ has with his models.
Three types of products are offered: wall art, pillows and plates. With titles like "Naked Beefcake," "Uncut Nude Male Duo," "Hung, No Pants" and more, the products feature sketches of male nudes in various poses with occasional articles of clothing (cloaks, opera gloves, hoodies, socks) or splashes of color, as well as a few close-up sketches of cocks. One of the most intriguing pieces offered is a set of pillows entitled "Cum Splatter Pattern" 1, 2 and 3, the appearance of which is probably self-explanatory.
"I think it just felt like the ultimate -- to me it's like that whole great splatterpaint design, it's something I really like and it's very in-style right now, but instead of doing splatter paint which doesn't really relate to what I do from a male figurative standpoint we decided to do cum," BJ said. "Seems kind of naughty, but classy -- as one of our Instagram followers has called it."
"It's actually created from a process and Park is a really real part of that process," he added, eliciting a cheeky "yeah it's mine" from Park.
The nude sketches feature an array of models, most of whom BJ contacted through the same Model Mayhem site that he found Park through, with Park also introducing some models and others being found simply by word of mouth surrounding the project. BJ has even had the chance to work with some recognizable names who come from or went on to work in the porn world. He speaks incredibly highly about the handsome Riley Price, Dirk Caber ("I've drawn him several times...such a great guy, super smart, a musician and a very interesting person") and Brazilian newcomer Tony Orion, who recently moved back to Chicago from New York and has made quite a name for himself in the last year.
"It's mostly guys that I think represent kind of modern beauty," BJ said. "I don't necessarily like them to be perfectly well-built and cookie cutter, I like some individual qualities. I like people to have some personality to their looks, not just the total gym body, big chest small legs that seems to be obvious these days...I love drawing people with a lot hair and I love drawing beards because I think that's sort of a contemporary look -- so you can look contemporary without having any clothes on. It's definitely a mix of types."
Sketching sessions typically last for around four hours, with the model holding a pose for 5-20 minutes, depending on the ease of holding the position. The process itself is built around being speedy, with BJ expecting to yield an average of 10 to 15 sketches per session depending on the poses and model. Hearing BJ describe them, a session sounds reminiscent of an Henri Murger or Oscar Wilde story about a 17th or 18th century salon -- BJ sketching quickly and spreading out the finished products until the floor surrounding him is covered in drawings of the model in various poses. The sketches themselves seem reminiscent of the same era, with focus placed on beautiful lines and marks.
As in anything else, some models take to posing more naturally than others and BJ says there were models he knew he wouldn't see again, some simply because they couldn't sit still (which BJ confesses he never could personally). With Park and others who've modeled for him multiple times, it comes down to connection, chemistry and something equally as intangible.
"For a while we got into this routine where we would draw every Sunday and I would really look forward to it all week because it meant I got to come over and we'd put Pandora on and it was like four hours where I could just tune out," Park said. "And we'd talk the whole time, well not like the whole time -- sometimes he'd get into the zone of drawing and I would just space out, but we'd also just talk about whatever. It was really great, it was a really nice four hours where I didn't have to think about anything...It's kind of meditative in a way."
"A lot of the models have said that...they're just surprised by the experience because they end up being a part of a creative process, which I think for some people is really interesting and it's different from their regular lives," BJ added, saying that he thinks people are also enticed by the permanence and idea of committing their image to art, instead of photography which is so ubiquitous in our smartphone society where nobody is without a camera. "So I think people respond to that, to the process, and also sort of to the results...of being the subject of a really beautifully done drawing. I think that's when I enjoy drawing people most is when they like the process and they get that and there's more than just whatever it is I'm paying them -- there's got to be more motivation than that."
In addition to the quality of the art, the duo pride themselves on the quality of the pieces and materials. A lot, they say, goes into making the pieces fine art quality and lasting. BJ points to some in the graphics community who utilize the giclee style prints innovated 20 years ago when digital printing first hit the art scene. A really caustic process was needed to keep the ink from falling off the paper, which appalled many art world traditionalists who are still struggling to get over seeing the process of reproduction as subpar.
"Like anything, there's a great range of quality and what you can do -- we can buy reproduction things, probably from China or Mexico, for like $10 each, but we're not," BJ explained. "We're doing it locally with one of the best printers in the world who has the best equipment who came from a photographic background -- who used to develop photographs for some totally high end photographers. So, they have the craftsmanship to be able to do this really well and they have the equipment to make it a premium product. So it will last."
The wall art is printed on thick Hahnemuhle FineArt paper, the pillows made of 100% cotton twill with only water-based inks and no additional chemicals and the plates are machine washable -- with all items being produced in the U.S. While the quality of their products was easily recognized by the passers-by when the duo launched their brand at Market Days this year, offering several products at a booth on Halsted, they've struggled some with conveying this online, where their wares are currently displayed and for sale.
Another problem the duo encountered at Market Days, and probably one of the main barriers to sales in general, was aptly described by Park:
"If you've ever been in a sex shop with your friends, you'll have maybe one person in the group who's there to actually buy something and is serious about wanting to go in there and buy something -- who actually knows what they're looking for and has done the research or has a mind for it, or has the sensibility -- and the rest are just looky-lous and maybe they like what they're seeing but they just 'tee hee' a lot," Park explained. "And it's not malicious or anything, but they're not likely to make the leap from looking to actually making the purchase."
The duo did make a number of sales (their first to an older lesbian who joked about always wanting a penis so she could have sex with the straight girls she lusted after and so bought a set of plates with cocks on them) and received a positive response in regards to the art as well as the innovative idea. In addition to having a booth at Market Days, that weekend was also the duo's deadline for getting their website up and running.
Alongside the pieces for sale, the website features a blog that gives potential customers a behind-the-scenes peek (including some NSFW photos) into the sessions and models behind the art. Perhaps the most fun feature of the website right now, however, and that's saying a lot for a website featuring penises (both sketched and in the flesh) and cum splattered pillows, are the strategic haikus that Park writes -- each one individualized for the piece it's paired with.
"So we were sort of teaching ourselves and fumbling along with search engine optimization and I didn't want to do these sentences of like using the same keyword over and over again, so I was trying to think of creative ways to implement the keyword phrase and I started putting the word in haikus," Park said.
In addition to their public exposure at the Market Days launch, just this month the duo was featured in the pages of Germany's gay magazine Manner. You can check out the Q&A article on their blog to see the fabulous spread and play word search for some fun new German vocab like spermaflecken and Sexdarsteller.
So what's next for BJ&Park?
The duo is pondering an overhaul of the website, considering moving away from a drier, e-commerce focused site and more into something of a gallery introducing the models and art with focus on images and links to purchase. In short, they want the website to better reflect who they are and what they're art all about, and not look so much like the rest of the product pages out there.
Park is pushing an experiment with apparel and the duo has also applied for a booth at the infamous market at IML this coming year. They're toying with the idea of producing some more leather-focused pieces and BJ dreams of recreating a particularly stunning Fornasetti multi-plate mosaic of Adam and Eve that decorates his living room for the fetish crowd, but concedes that such an aspiring project may not be in the budget. It is, however, a clear example of BJ&Park's versatility, creativity and ambition.
"I think that the products wouldn't be interesting if they didn't have really great art and I think that art becomes more interesting when -- I mean, I don't regard the art in a way that it can't be used and applied as illustration and commercially," BJ concluded. "So I think that the two support one another."
You can like BJ&Park on Facebook, view more pictures too NSFW to post here and shop for a sexy, sophisticated holiday gift for a lucky man in your life at bjandpark.com.
Serving the Chicago gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. ©Copyright 2019 GoPride Networks. All rights reserved.