Guy is a British writer and visual artist now resident in Australia. Primarily a portrait artist, Guy has also completed both architectural and landscape commissions. Guy’s solo exhibitions have been a huge hit with both the public, collectors and critics, with ABC online calling him ‘one of the most promising and collectible artists’ around at the moment. Over the past few years Guy has also turned to documentary film, making “A Queer Aesthetic” to promote his work and his message. Guy’s first book, Signs of a Struggle was published by Clouds of Magellan Press in 2019.
The following is from Guy’s book, ‘Signs of a Struggle’, and depicts one of the memorable gestures described in the text. The artist refers to this extract as: “And Now That Can’t Hurt Me Anymore”, the same title as his submitted artwork:
I’d make an utterly rubbish spy. I’m someone who always stands out, whether I want to or not.
I’m fine with that now, but when I was growing up it was a very different story. As an adult I have come to enjoy it and would even say I’ve managed to make it work for me, but back then, I hated being the centre of attention. I feared it and loathed it. I knew in those instances, it would rarely end well, and did everything I could think of in my early teens to turn down the volume on myself, shrink in size or fade from view.
I knew I wasn’t the only one to use these tactics, when I was at school I remember seeing girls around me trying to do the same to avoid the unwanted attention of the school bully-boys. Some girls could deal with and even enjoyed the attention from these boys, but many couldn’t.
When you’re small, the world around you seems smaller also. For me trying to navigate my way around the twice daily school bus trip to my local High School was particularly stressful and all consuming. The anxiety I experienced hours before each trip was intense. Twice a day I was consumed by this stomach-churning ritual. Once I was trapped on the school bus, anything could happen, I had no escape.
The buses in service were a couple of dilapidated old double-decker buses each taking a turn at the twice daily to and fro.
One of the most anxious parts of the ride was that, often certain bus drivers would insist on separating us all, so boys would go upstairs, and girls would have to stay downstairs. This basically just hot-housed the rowdiness to upstairs and condensed my fear of trauma to a point of certainty that I would be abused in some way.
I really hated those bus journeys.
A strong memory I have is one particularly horrible school-bus trip where one girl in particular, I can still remember her name, but let’s just call her ‘Anygirl’, because really she could have been, boarded the bus and walked down the centre aisle, all the boys started cheering in a pre-organised routine. She had been seen to hug another girl, on-field during a sporting event, a few days previously and therefore the infinitely wise and all-knowing council of teenage boys had decided she was definitely a lesbian (she was only about 12, so to be honest, she might not have even considered that fully herself at this point). As she boarded and walked down the centre aisle of the bus in perfect unison most of the boys, and some of the girls too, its worth pointing out, all brought two fingers to their mouth, stuck their tongue out in-between and made loud, monstrous moaning noises.
It was awful, and while, on one level relieved to not be the focal point of the attention for once, I know exactly how traumatising that experience would have been for Anygirl. I know undoubtedly that day would have stayed with her and would have shaped the person she became for the rest of her adulthood. I had a similar thing happen to me when once on the bus all the kids decided I was limp wristed and like a vicious-Mexican-wave going along the lines of seats they all started making floppily limp wristed gestures at me and laughing riotously at their own hilarity.
This is a painting of DJ Niveen. I’d met her previously a few times before painting her but didn’t really know her that well. She’s very cool but also very real and down to earth and just absolutely lovely. When I tentatively explained what I wanted to do within the finished painting, she was completely up for it straight away.
This piece is called ‘And now that can’t hurt me anymore’ and is about processing what I saw on that bus all those years ago. At the time I was so fearful and repressed, I couldn’t do anything at all to help Anygirl or deflect the trauma in what was happening. I still internally freeze with fear, and make myself smaller, when I see large gangs of kids in school uniforms; I don’t think I will ever not.
I hope this painting is seen by young girls who get this hand/tongue gesture still used against them. I hope when any girls see this painting the gesture depicted becomes something that cannot be used to hurt or harm, but it becomes something in their head similar to a promise for later years, that they will meet women like Niveen and they too will to be charmed by their coolness and relaxed by their down-to-earthiness. I hope that, I really do.
More of Guy’s work can be found at https://guyjameswhitworth.com/