Who's The Man?

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Father, brother, friend, scoundrel, love god – all adages your average man aspires to. But, with a staggering array of platforms from which to promote ourselves, (think Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Yourspace, Herface, whatever...) men these days are more identity-stricken than ever.

Step in British games designer-turned-artist, Rudy de Belgeonne. For the past five years de Belgeonne has been collating all the names he’s ever been called in preparation for a giant typographic installation.

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Opening in Soho’s The Future Gallery for five days only from June 3rd, Who’s The man is a tapestry of over 1,000 hand-painted panels, each brandishing a high-colour idiom, ranging from nancy boy, mama man and sonofabitch, to brute, bad boy and fancy dan. We caught up with de Belgeonne this week to find out which one he likes to think he is.

Who's The Man opens June 3rd and entry is free. The Future Gallery, 5 Great Newport Street, London, WC2H 7JB. Tel: 020 3301 4727.

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ESQUIRE: Who’s The Man has taken you five years to complete, Rudy. What took you so long?

RUDY DE BELGEONNE: I started off slow – dabbling, collecting up the words, sketching out a few designs. I’ve only been working on it proper obsessive style for the past year. Plus it didn’t help that I made a few false starts – originally I was collecting words for 1000 women – but when I came to actually paint the words it just felt, well, just a little impolite, as a man, perpetuating the whole housewife, mother, goddess, whore thing. Much more culturally interesting to turn the gaze on the male –and funnier too

ESQ: Which of the 1000 titles featured in Who’s The Man would you say best apply to you – being a bloke yourself?

RDB: I was asked this very question the other day by someone who is making a film of the whole project – I spent some time trying to narrow it down to one or two words that I most identified with, but I realised that I’d probably felt like almost all of them at one time or other in my life. What man, if they are honest, hasn’t felt like a Hero, Villain, Love God, Superstar, Wimp or Ponce at different times? Let’s just say today I feel like a Rum Cove, a Good Egg and a Long Cool Glass of Water

ESQ: You spent many years working as a games designer, which do you prefer, making art or designing games?

RDB: What I really get off on – common to both - is the opportunity to conjure up something completely new that didn’t exist in the world before. It’s just that with one activity you have the brief set for you, and with the other you get to set your own brief. They also both involve humour, and the visual element – I’d say they both feed into each other. The art probably edges it though, because there are less external forces acting on what you’re doing – less compromising factors. It is also more exhilarating because it is more personal - and more revealing...

ESQ: We love the typographic element of Who’s The Man, Rudy. Ever thought about working in magazines?

RDB: I see the June exhibition not just as the culmination of 5 years’ hard labour, but also as the beginning of something. I have all sorts of plans to present the work in different ways – as an animation, as an interactive piece, in book form, alongside photos of actual men. And I’ve already had proposals for commercial use – on merchandise etc. As for magazine work – I’m not sure I could blag it from day to day in the highly skilled world of magazine production, but I’d definitely be up for one-off projects – features, themed issues etc. I believe artists should be capable of – and should actively seek to – propagate their ideas through every channel available.

ESQ: There’s a definite comedy to Who’s The Man’. Games designer, artist, typographer – would you also call yourself a poet?

RDB: I’m pleased if some of the words make people chortle –humour is such an important tool to get people to engage with the work – as is beauty. But there’s definitely a poetic element this piece of work too – the 1000 panels are composed in such a way that every one is related in some way to the ones on either side of it – by meaning, by association, or sometimes just because it rhymes – eg Gangster, Wiseguy, Funnyman, Straight Man, Gay Man... So it could be read as one long 1000-word poem in which the meaning slowly morphs from beginning to end.