Illustrator Gabriel Garbow captures the beauty of male eroticism

“Others see it as pornographic. I see it as art.”

Gunthar Reising

The walls of Gabriel Garbow’s shared studio are lined with sculptures — nude clay figures in various poses, life size water colors of naked angels and busts of old men.

The artist’s personal creative station — his computer — takes up only a small corner amongst the prolific monuments to the human form.

Garbow is a professional illustrator. His specialty is male eroticism.

“Others see it as pornographic. I see it as art,” said Dan Nolin, an attendee at Garbow’s studio open house on Friday. “I like the artistic part. The lighting and colors especially.”

Garbow’s work is mostly of men; it’s always intimate. His illustrations don’t shy away from the most private corners of life. Graphic sex and penises are common motifs in his illustrations.

“That’s just something I care about in my life,” Garbow said. “Closeness and intimacy … besides creating, those are the moments that I seek out and love. It’s something that just makes the human experience — my life — more worth living.”

Garbow isn’t trying to make any political or social statements. His art is purely an expression of what attracts him.

“When I make pictures I really don’t think about them too much; I just try to make things I connect with.”

“I enjoy those pleasant but sort of ambiguous moments,” Garbow said, addressing the vulnerable intimacy of his work. “Someone pointed out to me that the expressions and body language in my art has a little bit of nuance … that leads to a more complex emotion.”

Despite his overt sexual imagery, Garbow hopes to capture something more delicate in his pieces.

“It’s the intimacy of being with the people you care about. I think that’s what makes some of what I do more than just a picture.”

It wasn’t always easy for Garbow to confront these heavy moments of affection. When Garbow was still working his day job in real estate, he had to use a pen name to put his work online.

“When I first started doing more intimate [and] erotic stuff it was really nerve-racking. A lot of it was that I didn’t want to deal with explaining why these things are the things I wanted to draw.”

Through drawing his current content, however, Garbow has found confidence.

“I’m so much more comfortable with myself. More comfortable with claiming this art and saying it’s a valuable expression of part of people’s lives. Even the most sexual stuff now — I don’t feel uncomfortable with [it].”

Garbow hopes to erase the longstanding art history belief that the female body is more beautiful than the male body.

“The accepted thought in the art world is that the female form is more beautiful, but I think that beauty is something we made up,” Garbow said.

“Because the male ideal is blockier with straight lines, it’s harder for artists to figure out how to do something that is at once masculine and beautiful.”

For Garbow, there is beauty in every form. It’s the artist’s job to find it.

“What I’m trying to figure out as an artist is how to do justice to a form — to figure out what is elemental or essential about the person.”