Madison Hope Reid: dissecting the straight man

How do you portray yourself online when you only have a split second to grab someone’s attention? Many of us are familiar with the modern-day phenomenon of mindlessly swiping through dating apps. We are met with an endless sea of shirtless men’s mirror selfies. Or proud photos of the giant sea bass they just reeled in. From the heterosexual female perspective, it’s difficult to understand why men choose these photos in an attempt to attract a mate. Vancouver based painter, Madison Hope Reid, is no stranger to this 21st century struggle. In fact, it is the forefront of her work.

Tinder as a muse

We’re used to the male gaze as the traditional perspective in art, film, and most media we consume. Depictions of women over-sexualized, often a helpless damsel in distress. But God forbid a woman chooses to depict herself in such a way. Madison has always found this contradiction amusing. Why is a provocative photo of a woman on a dating app met with shame, but for men, it’s the norm? 

Madison’s paintings offer an alternative view to the male gaze. In her body of work you can find expressive, colorful paintings of men, from shirtless shower selfies to them praising their cars, all using real life Tinder profiles as references. What results is an accumulation of the “what-the-fuck moments” she’s collected on apps over the years. “I just wanted to take an unassuming, shitty photograph with a terrible composition and turn it into art,” Madison states. 

Madison’s deep dive into the mind of a man

With education and a full-time job in graphic design, it was only COVID that allowed Madison to take painting more seriously. Her oil paintings started as landscape studies of her travels throughout Latin America. But they eventually evolved as a means of expression for her feminist perspectives, a topic that has always driven her. Her series Vanity Affair: An Ode To The Bathroom Selfie depicts moody male self-portraits. With her loose brushstrokes, in blue and purple hues, it shows the more vulnerable and intimate moments of straight men that we tend to lack in mainstream media.

images by PILOTENKUECHE or supplied by artist

In the end, wasn’t taking the time to stop and study the images the original desired result? Madison’s art developed into an exploration of the psychology of these men. Her most recent series Autonomous explores the straight man’s relationship to his car, and why he may feel it is tied to his identity. Why does he have a photo of only his car on his dating profile? Why do men think we care about their cars as much as they do? From asking men similar questions, she found her main takeaway to be that they’re simply just “not concerned with what other people think.” Drawing inspiration from these Tinder conversations, she used AI to generate images of men posing with their cars. These images with their faces blurry and distorted, almost as if their identity is becoming one with the car,  became references for her paintings in this series. 

Finding depth in the shallow

With her work, Madison expresses her experience and the sense of alienation she feels from online dating. It’s often difficult to get past the surface and find intellectual stimulation in an online world, where the goals seem to be focused on speed and endless options. “These apps aren’t designed for us,” she says. “Everyone’s having a bad time.” Her work is her way of finding life lessons out of the superficial. At least through these apps, she can shine light on the double standards that exist in online dating, and show a more vulnerable side of men than we’re used to seeing. And whether her muses like her work or not, Madison has learned a valuable lesson from the men from Autonomous: to not be so concerned with what others think.

written by Neena Bui

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