Can a pair of boxer shorts help bring us closer together? That’s one question that artist Jonathan Lyndon Chase thought through as they were creating their latest exhibition, “Big Wash,” at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, on view through June 6.

Boxers form a recurring motif in the show’s canvases, soft sculpture, and installation elements, as well as an ongoing boxer exchange program that is meant to help create community and intimacy at a moment in which artists have had to design new ways of being together while having to be socially distanced.

 

 

The show, Chase said in a recent video interview, is “bearing witness to transformation and to healing: water, being submerged, a wave washing over you.” It also draws heavily on the fashion and music videos of the early 2000s—“Mariah Carey was at her peak at that point,” they said—shortly after Chase came out in 1999. Other influences that Chase has drawn on throughout their career abound, like the work of Ghada Amer, Kehinde Wiley, Chris Ofili, and Barkley L. Hendricks, whom Chase sees as part of their “genealogy of figure making,” as well as the X-Men comic books and video games like Sonic, Crash Bandicoot, Final Fantasy, and Tomb Raider.

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Jonathan Lyndon Chase, in collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia, “Big Wash” (exhibition view), 2020.PHOTO CARLOS AVENDAÑO

The boxers that appear in the exhibition and the exchange program were created as part of Chase’s recent residency at the Fabric Workshop. The show’s curator, Karen Patterson, met Chase shortly after moving to Philadelphia to take the job at the Fabric Workshop. As one of her first moves, she wanted to revive the Fabric Workshop’s residency program as a way for the museum to be more deeply connected to Philadelphia-based artists.

“The roots of the Fabric Workshop when it started were these short-term screen-printing artist residencies,” Patterson said. “I wanted to see if contemporary artists were still as interested in learning and trying screen-printing to see how that might impact their practice.”

Patterson conducted a studio visit Chase, who is based in Philadelphia, where they were born and raised, toward the end of 2019. In Chase’s work, which typically takes the form of intimate portraits of Black queer people that include collaged elements, Patterson noticed that the artist was already working with “domestic textiles: sheets, towels, bedding, clothing,” and she subsequently invited Chase to be a resident artist.

 

As part of the residency program, Chase worked with the museum’s technicians to create a fabric that drew inspiration from archival binders the artist uses to collect color swatches and poetry, as well as notes and sketches they make based on things they encounter. Chase then assembled the selected sketches onto a piece of Masonite before they were converted into several transparencies that would eventually be silkscreened over two 19-yard bolts of white fabric.