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In praise of naked men: sculptor Philip Hitchcock drags the male nude out of the closet and forges a red-hot career in the process.

Philip Hitchcock would never ask a model to strike a pose he wouldn't strike himself. Proof? The handsome 40 something sculptor--best known for capturing the human figure via erotically explicit gypsum castings--recently bared all for a gay men's magazine.

"I'm very grounded in the physical, and I regard the body as a divine thing," says Hitchcock, who'll be giving workshops on his casting process in three California cities later this fall. "It's a big non-issue for me--nudity, my own nudity, whatever. I don't have any real body shame or sense of naughtiness or Oh, my God, you've exposed yourself!"

In creating his life-size 3-D sculptures, Hitchcock first coats a model's body with alginate, a cold, clammy, quick-drying putty traditionally used to make dental impressions. Next, the application of cotton batting and plaster bandages strengthens the cast of the pose, 20 minutes.

Under the bright lights of his home studio in Los Angeles's Venice neighborhood--with assistants present and the clock ticking--the entire process is more clinical than come-hither. "When you watch some body put this gooey, drippy stuff on a body, it's hot, it's exciting--and it's very easy to sexualize that," says Hitchcock, who is out and single. "But I am not lying or exaggerating when I tell you that when I do this, it's not what I'm thinking about." Besides, protecting his professional integrity is paramount. "I don't want the reputation of 'Oh, yeah, that Phil. Nice guy. Great artist. But you know, he's got wandering hands.'"

Once the negative mold is peeled away, it is filled with liquid stone, lunch as an ice-cube tray is flooded with water. The stone hardens, the mold is literally broken, and the new piece left behind is sculpted to remove imperfections, glazed, and painted. Some works are left au naturel, while others are partially sheathed or otherwise adorned with such materials as steel, fiberglass, and bone.

"Hitchcock's figures suggest an ideal beauty that exists without an identity," says Wayne Snellen, director of New York City's Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation, which has one of the sculptor's pieces in its permanent collection. "No face--therefore not an individual but existing somewhere in the realm of the gods."

Yet these bodies are tantalizingly real. Hitch cock's castings are so faithful to the original individual that bulging biceps, taut nipples, and swelling phalluses are perfectly replicated alongside goose bumps, finger prints, and veins.

This verisimilitude is what has earned Hitchcock fans--and foes. "I've had galleries that wouldn't show my work," he says. "Gay gallery owners have said, 'We can't show a penis like this!'"

While some of Hitchcock's works pay homage to feminine curvature, the male physique does predominate in his oeuvre. "I have a chemical sexual response to a man's body that I don't have to a woman's," the artist says, half in self-defense, adding that economics also plays a part. "I have not been able to cultivate the audience for my female pieces. Buyers of art, particularly sculpture, for me, have always been gay men."

And so Hitchcock will continue to celebrate manhood, dragging male nudity out of the closet in the process. "I like the word normalize," he says, pointing to the fact that the uncovered female form has been shamelessly portrayed in art for centuries. "Suddenly you depict a man with an erection, and everybody gets all jangly."

Vaillancourt was staff writer (with partner David A. Lee) on the final season of MTV's Undressed.
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Author:Vaillancourt, Daniel
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Oct 28, 2003
Words:570
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