Who or what is a Midnight Cowboy? - you may asking. The 'Midnight Cowboy' is an allegorical character in the paintings of Jared Cabrera, also known creatively as 'Hovvrad' - a young artist from Ontario, California.
Hovvrad has just released a new publication entitled 'Too Far from Home', it collects together his creative works and text, and explores the stories that surround the Midnight Cowboy. To find out more about Hovvrad and his work - continuing reading and read the interview below. To find out more and purchase your copy of the book go to Hovvrad.net - All the proceeds will go towards supporting 'Black Lives Matter' and 'Pride' organisations. Video Interview
At the end of 2019, Hovvrad was selected for an artist residency at the house of iconic erotic artist Tom of Finland, and as part of this was invited to stay for a period of time, to explore his art practice and experience the culture and legacy of everything TOM had built.
From midnight until the early hours of the morning Hovvrad would be awake in the garden of the house. Using this quiet time to paint and become mindful over the narrative emerging from the layers of each painting.
“My time at TOM House is one I cannot forget…Being here allowed me to observe the history of the Foundation and Tom’s work, along with the extensive amount of history of other talented Queer artists. Overall, I appreciate all the time I have spent here, I believe that I have really accepted my craft and sexuality.”
Hovvrad’s painted portraits are like minimal, and colourful placeholders for men. The figures are painted as beautiful shadows - showing no fixed identity other than some masculine features. They borrow similar symbolism to Tom's work, where he would play and fetishise masculine archetypes, such as the policeman, the lifeguard, the biker... In Hovvrad's work there is a hint of this symbolism that echoes in the form of Cowboy iconography and the associated lifestyle. However his figures are painted somewhat softer, and I n this way we can’t objectify them like the men in Tom’s drawings. This opens up the eroticism to be something more thoughtful, more tender, and invites the viewer to imagine a little more.
"Using these figures and images is my narrative to breaking down hyper masculine stereotypes in the Gay community. By using a soft color palate allows me to paint these burly men as soft shapes and beards. I find by stripping down these men, to their underwear, jock straps, and nude allows me to paint a behind-closed-door, reflective image to convey complete vulnerability and body empowerment, without to many defining lines"
Instead of these men appearing for sexual gratification, they instead stand in place for the emotions or the state of mind of the artist. Hovvrad‘s visual storytelling becomes apparent as we move from one painting to the next, it encourages the development of some of the core themes as we take this journey with the cowboy - gradually building a dialogue around issues such as identity, coming of age, masculinity, connection and heartache.
The use of text within Hovvrad’s work shouldn’t be overlooked (and not just the text within some paintings). The titles given to each works help mould our understanding as to how to interpret the figures and their actions, perhaps within our own narrative.
Titles such as ‘Dying of Thirst’ anchors a certain meaning to the viewer - changing how we may see the image. It allows the viewer to realise more pieces of an ongoing and emerging narrative puzzle that Hovvrad is offering us.
While Hovvrad’s works sometimes show nudity and sex, it’s hard to think of them as explicitly or intensely erotic. Conversely, they explain the desire to be erotic, to be loved, to share, and perhaps not to be a lonesome cowboy. The cowboy appears to be longing for connection and searching for a sense of togetherness, rather than anything overtly sexualised (sex is just part of that journey). The tenderness and the search is emotes throughout, particularly in the paintings titled 'Boys', where we see too horses embrace nuzzling heads. In another work, we see a hand reaching out as if to touch the face of a figure who is sat on the floor, with a tear rolling down his eye. We are placed in the point of view of the caregiver, the hand that is caressing.
The paintings aren't likely to be used to 'get your rocks off' (undoubtedly unlike many of Tom of Finland's have over the years) Instead they invite you to spend some time with the Midnight Cowboy, explore the feelings before any type of gratification – we should view them like a flickering fire, one that’s a point of reverie for a camping cowboy.
Tom of Finland once commented that if he wasn’t 'hard' when he was drawing, then it wasn’t a successful drawing. Hovvrad’s work is no less about desire, but it’s seems to be coming from a different place. One that asks us to think and feel about sex. One that is tender and searching for the romantic, and not simply the erotic.
"Leaving such a needy heart so unguarded, he found himself lost and angry for what he needed so badly burned him till he no longer desired this."
After a prolific period, including several solo shows, Hovvrad is now working from within quarantine on a new painting project.
'Too far from Home' is Hovvrad's latest art publishing project. You can buy prints of all his paintings in the form of a book, where each image will have an accompanying story entry written by the character of the Midnight Cowboy. Click here to buy your copy. All proceeds will go towards supporting the Black Lives Matter and Pride related organisations and charities.
bunk: Tell me a little about the character of the Midnight Cowboy in your work?
Hovvrad: So, the Midnight Cowboy is actually the vessel in which I speak through, all of my personal experiences, and truthfully it is me. It's the raw version of me - but at the same time it is the combination of what I want to be, or what I struggle to be.
I think the best way to break it apart wouldn't be ‘the strength of a father and the love of a mother’, but the feeling of, kind of, putting the world on your back. And I don't really know where it comes from, it's a very subconscious thing I'm guessing. Because growing up I was just always really surrounded by, you know, the West or Western aesthetics and culture – all because of my father.
It’s just a little fun take, it's a little alter ego that I get to play with and be a lot more personal with, compared to when I make traditional work and painting - or whatever medium I'm working in. It's more of just like a common emotion and how I see it versus a real broken-down story and personal message from myself. But... that is how I see my Midnight Cowboy and how I created him.
bunk: So, thinking about this ‘story’ you mention, and also about your art being a ‘personal message to yourself’ - can you explain a bit more about the meaning behind your artworks? What’s the story?
Hovvrad: The story behind my work can get a little complicating, I primarily use lesser defined figures to speak through. I tend to draw bears or bearded men because it's something I find super easy to draw and to understand what I'm doing. I don’t consider myself a super great illustrator, I can't really draw super-realistic things, and I think one of the goals and missions with my work is to give this message: ‘do what you kind of want and like what you love and know, and not really what the standard asks of you.’
I took a few classes and like for art and like college and I just wasn't really cool with someone telling me that like this is what I had to draw, and this is how I had to draw it. I just didn't feel any freedom from it.
Especially because you know art was just a way to exhaust emotions and communicate these feelings and as you grow as an artist it develops and to wanting to change the world for the better for the most part and just the journey is just developing that voice and understanding on how to you know reach these goals and these things you set out to achieve and that's kind of like the idea with my work.
I try to stay away from like defining features because I'm not trying to start an argument about what the body should look like, it's more of ‘this is a placeholder area’ this is a shell of a human, because this isn't this isn't what you're focusing on; the story is what you're focusing on, the message is what you're focusing on.
But at the same time, what you're seeing is visually appealing, it's visually there - the colour theory is there. I try to really hone in with colours and how they you know convey certain emotions, and really testing the I guess the cohesiveness of placing wrong colours next to each other - and alright I was just having fun with it. And as I had mentioned before it's just using these bodies as instruments to tell these stories of lost love and self-destruction. But yeah, it just stick to what you like um don't feel pressured to have to you know draw super realistic or make the cleanest short film or take the nicest portraits – honestly just explore the thing you enjoy. If something inspires you, I urge you to secretly make it and if you can recreate it as closely you can, use that as a learning lesson. Use it as a way to develop your style and what part of that inspiration you actually really want to take from it. And you know, pay the dues, pay your credits, mention what inspires you (you know I'm pretty sure there's lists for all of us) but you know - ‘just do you man’.