While a student, Sheryl McDougald recognized that Renaissance artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo and Donatello “were all basically homosexual and the way that they were seeing things was that the combination of male and female was closer to God.” While investigating these artists’ images, which merged masculine qualities with females and feminine qualities with males, McDougald decided to take on this type of gender and sexuality play in her own work.
Her pieces integrate well-known classic Renaissance forms with contemporary queer female imagery. Gillian as Giuliano de Medici, for instance, portrays a bare-chested, leather-strapped butch in combat boots positioned in the same role as Michelangelo’s 15th century model. “What I did was take those old Renaissance paintings and put them back into relationships that I like to see, something that is related to human desire and human nature, but has socially changed over the past 500 years,” says McDougald.
McDougald hails from British Columbia and her work has been featured in numerous magazines, television and video pieces and gallery exhibitions, and it has garnered her well-deserved praise both within and outside of queer communities. But her most important audience is her peers: “The people that I’ve grown with and have my own relationships with don’t get to see art that relates to us, about us directly, and that’s what I feel I’m doing,” says McDougald. “I think that when you take [Renaissance forms] out of their context and put them into a different context, it might give the viewer an even more powerful impression than if it was just, say, a portrait of two women. To actually use Big Book Art History is kind of cheeky, but it’s more empowering.”